"Anyone who has spent time working with sheep will know that they are intelligent, individual animals who are able to recognize their handlers", said Professor Jenny Morton, who led the Cambridge study. Recognizing a person that is familiar from 3-D life requires "complex image processing", the authors say, because the sheep must translate their memory of the person to a 2-D picture.
Scientists say the study could help advance research of Huntington's disease, which causes humans to lose their ability to recognize faces, Sky News reported. During one set of trials, they were made to discern between their handler (whose photo they'd never seen before) and a new face. But there are at least eight sheep who can recognize the former president by his face.
The BBC quoted researchers as stating that "sheep possess similar face recognition abilities to primates".More news: Scottish Parliament Evacuated Over Suspicious Packages
A sheep "model" of Huntington's disease has been bred, displaying similar brain and social changes as witnessed in human patients. Their ability increased with training but dropped when the face was tilted. Celebrity profile photos were randomly paired with images of one of 62 objects, all head-sized but lacking faces. And humans use faces for more than recognition, he wrote: "Our emotions, the open and instinctive emotions that Darwin wrote about, as well as the hidden or repressed ones that Freud wrote about, are displayed on our faces, along with our thoughts and intentions". If they chose the wrong photograph, a buzzer would sound and they would receive no reward. By the end of this experiment, the sheep chose a familiar celebrity's face over a stranger's face about 79 percent of the time on average. Over time, they learn to associate a reward with the celebrity's photograph.
In fact, sheep could even identify the faces of his coaches without training.
To challenge the sheep even further, scientists showed them the same celebrities in photos captured from a different, tilted angle. When a portrait of the handler was interspersed randomly, the sheep chose them seven out of 10 times.