Sheep trained to recognize Jake Gyllenhaal, for science

Seven out of 10 times, the animals would favor the familiar faces of their handlers over the celebrities.

A University of Cambridge study found that sheep can learn to recognize human faces. A celebrity's face would appear on one screen, while a different image appeared on the other.

Sheep are known for their sociability, but this showed - with some training - the sheep could not only recognize fellow sheep and humans they knew, but process images of faces.

"This face recognition task will allow us to test whether or not sheep carrying the Huntington's disease gene mutation are impaired in their ability to think and reason", Morton explained.

"Sheep are long-lived and have brains that are similar in size and complexity to those of some monkeys".

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In fact, they could even recognise people when pictures were altered or were taken from a different angle, an ability only previously recorded in humans and primates. Then, during the trials, the sheep were released into a pen where they had to discern between the familiar faces and an object or an unfamiliar face.

When they were tested if they could perform without the rewards, the sheep were able to recognize the celebrities faces eight out of 10 times, Sky News reported.

Researchers consider facial recognition as one of the most important human social skills. "I guess they have extended our work to show that sheep generalize viewpoints of the faces, which does require a rich representation of the identity". The sheep were given food to create an association. "I suspect they do have a genuine sense of the identity", he said.

In a final test, the sheep had to choose between a picture of one of their handlers' faces and an unfamiliar face. My 2001 paper looked very carefully at this with a wider range of stimuli, more sheep and more conditions.

"Anyone who has spent time working with sheep will know that they are intelligent, individual animals who are able to recognise their handlers", said Prof Jenny Morton, who led the study. "But the evidence is compelling", Morton said. The research could even help with research into neurological diseases.

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