Baa-rack! Sheep recognise Obama from photo
LONDON - Agence France-Presse
The former US 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 these people because there were lots of images of each person available on line, both front-on and taken at different angles," study co-author Jennifer Morton of the University of Cambridge told AFP.
"We also chose them because we were sure that our sheep had never met them in person!".
The sheep would nuzzle up close to their chosen screen, where they would trigger an infrared sensor releasing a treat, if they had chosen correctly.
The sheep’s accuracy dipped to about 66 percent -- "a magnitude similar to that seen when humans perform this task," the team reported in the journal Royal Society Open Science.
The animal’s "ability to learn to recognise a person from a 2D (two-dimensional) photograph was surprising, since this requires complex brain processing," said Morton.
After some initial confusion, the animals picked the handler’s picture in 72 percent of cases.
Many other animals are known to recognise the faces among their own species, while some -- including macaques, horses, dogs, mockingbirds, and sheep -- can identify individuals from other species too.
The study feeds into ongoing research on treating neurodegenerative diseases such as Huntington’s, in which face perception can be impaired.
"If this is the case, we can use the test to measure the beneficial effect of new treatments."