Published: Thu, November 09, 2017
Research | By Derrick Holloway

New study on sheep may help research on brain disorders

The former U.S. president was one of four celebrities used in a test of the woolly creatures' face-recognition skills, along with Harry Potter actress Emma Watson, British TV host Fiona Bruce and American actor Jake Gyllenhaal, the research team said.

"We chose the celebrities nearly randomly", Morton said, as long as there were lots photos to choose from.

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. Whenever the sheep correctly chose the option, the testing got popped out with a treat. They were able to identify the faces of celebrities at different angles (although there was a decrease in performance of about 15%), demonstrating that they are not stupid.

To challenge the sheep even further, scientists showed them the same celebrities in photos captured from a different, tilted angle.

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"We focused on whether or not an animal was capable of processing a two-dimensional object as a person", Morton added.

As with some other animals such as dogs and monkeys, sheep are social animals and can recognise other sheep as well as familiar humans.

After some initial confusion, the animals picked the handler's picture in 72 percent of cases.

"Our study gives us another way to monitor how these abilities change, particularly in sheep who carry the gene mutation that causes Huntington's disease", she pointed out. In follow-up experiments, the authors of the new study had the sheep once again chose between images of celebrities or strangers.

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Recognizing human faces is a skill you may take for granted-but you're also a human.

Sheep are social animals and can recognise other sheep as well as familiar humans. Their ability increased with training but dropped when the face was tilted.

Morton said that future neurological research, using sheep as model organisms, could build from this study.

Scientists found that sheep have facial recognition abilities akin to those of humans or monkeys, according to Jenny Morton, the lead scientist in the study.

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