RESEARCH: Sheep can recognize faces – of owners and celebrities

A recent British study shows that sheep have a highly developed ability to recognize the faces of celebrities.

Although it has long been known that sheep are able to recognize the faces of their human owners and handlers, scientists have now shown that sheep can be trained to recognize images of famous people.

Professor Jenny Morton, the lead scientist in the Cambridge University study, said that the study showed that sheep have face-recognition abilities comparable with those of humans or monkeys.

Sheep Facial-Recognition Research


Morton’s team trained eight sheep to recognize the faces of four celebrities: journalist Fiona Bruce, actors Jake Gyllenhaal and Emma Watson, and former US president Barack Obama.

In the tests, each animal was shown two faces in which one was the celebrity face. Each animal was given a reward of a cereal pellet (food) if it approached the correct image.

The sheep were put in an enclosure and tested on whether they recognized the celebrities without the cereal rewards. The result was that 80% of the time, the sheep correctly identified the celebrity.

The research team also discovered that the sheep distinguished the faces of their owners and handlers before they recognized the faces of the celebrities. Owners and handlers are people that the sheep spends at least two hours a day with. The sheep picked the real-life familiar faces before they picked famous people 70% of the time.

Sheep’s facial recognition abilities could be used to investigate Huntington’s disease, which can cause people to lose the ability to recognize people. The research team has now begun studying sheep genetically modified to carry the mutation that causes the disease.



Photographer: Martina Nicolls



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