With some training, sheep were able to select a celebrity's face over that of a stranger they'd never seen. Christopher Intagliata reports.
Here’s one of the stranger celebrity sightings out there: Researchers have confirmed that sheep can recognize the actors Emma Watson and Jake Gyllenhaal.
"Yeah I think it's very cool." Jennifer Morton is a neurobiologist at the University of Cambridge. "The reason we chose celebrities is we were sure they'd never met these people."
The experiment worked like this. First, Morton's team trained eight sheep to recognize the famous faces. And the sheep correctly chose the celeb's face over a stranger's 80 percent of the time.
Next they presented faces at a slight angle. The sheep got only two-thirds of those right. But that's on par with how human performance dips for the same problem.
Proving that sheep have advanced facial recognition skills, the scientists say…comparable to humans or our primate cousins. The study is in the journal Royal Society Open Science. [Franziska Knolle et al., Sheep recognize familiar and unfamiliar human faces from two-dimensional images]
If you're wondering, "Why sheep?"
"Sheep chose me rather than the other way around." There's a good model of Huntington's disease in sheep. So Morton says studying cognitive tasks like facial recognition in sheep--and the decline in those abilities in Huntington's sheep—might offer insights into the human condition.
[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]