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09 November 2017, 01:25 | Hattie Nash
A sheep. Smarter than it looks. Wolfgang Kaehler LightRocket via Getty Images
Sheep have been trained to recognise the faces of celebrities, including former United States president Barack Obama, by University of Cambridge scientists who hope it may help with understanding neurodegenerative diseases.
The average sheep has always been judged a placid and dim-witted creature, a view epitomised by Sir Winston Churchill when he labelled Clement Attlee a "sheep in sheep's clothing". Out of the all the shown photos, the sheep chose celebrities Jake Gyllenhaal, Barack Obama, Emma Watson, and United Kingdom television journalist Fiona Bruce.
It had been known that sheep can recognize familiar faces of other sheep and of humans. Maybe they just didn't like that the non-familiar lacked a reward, for example. And when shown pictures of their handlers without any training, the sheep did a double take then wandered over to their image.
In a separate test, researchers wanted to see if the sheep would recognize human trainers they already know without any training like they underwent in the pen with the celebrity faces.
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A new study shows that sheep have the ability to recognize human faces from photographs on computer screens.
A sheep "model" of Huntington's disease has been bred, displaying similar brain and social changes as witnessed in human patients.
Results said that the sheep were able to spot the right face on more than one occasions.
In a final test, the sheep had to choose between a picture of one of their handlers' faces and an unfamiliar face. Past research has shown that horses, dogs, and even mockingbirds can discern between individuals of other species. The sheep could even recognize images of faces shown at an angle, though their ability to do so declined by about 15 percent - the same rate at which a human's ability to perform the same task declines. Over time, they learn to associate a reward with the celebrity's photograph. The sheep were having two options in each step as a photo of celebrity face or another is of something else.
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