Science

Sheep’s facial recognition is as good as ours

By Louange Lubangu

Research conducted at the University of Cambridge has shown that sheep can recognise the faces of celebrities, after being trained.

The results recorded proves that sheep are actually smarter than one would think as they had successfully selected the right image 8/10 times. The star-studded list included Emma Watson, Barak Obama and Jake Gyllenhaal.

The woolly creatures would choose the most familiar faces in each round, and when images of their handlers were shown, they would almost confidently choose who they recognised, after spending so much time with them. Though this may seem like a humous experiment to conduct, it does have a purpose, which is to help scientists understand human behaviours when it comes to diseases such as Parkinson’s, Huntingtons’s and Alzheimer’s.

The experiment consisted of eight welsh mountain sheep being shown two people on a screen; one of which showed an image of a celebrity. The sheep would then select their option by passing through an infrared beam. If their answer was correct, they would receive a reward, if they were incorrect, there would be no reward, and a buzzer would sound.

When presented with the task of choosing the celebrity portrayed in different angles, the percentage of correct responses decreased, which is a great indication of the struggles that a human being may encounter when suffering from certain neurodegenerative diseases.

Neurodegenerative diseases affect the neurons in the brain and can lead to memory loss, affecting the growth and usage of major muscles in the body.

“Sheep are capable of sophisticated decision making,” says Professor Jenny Morton, leader of the study and neurobiologist at the University of Cambridge, we’ve shown that sheep have advanced face-recognition abilities, comparable with those of humans and monkeys,. Like humans, sheep can recognise humans by face, and this may actually be a more difficult process than one might think, as those suffering from Hutington’s disease struggle to recognise facial expressions and hence read emotions.

By studying the ability of humans to recognise other people, scientists will be able to track the symptoms of neurodegenerative diseases. The group of sheep used in this experiment directly help with research on the Huntington’s disease as they are genetically modified to have the mutation that leads to the disease, in order to monitor its progression.

Morton describes this research as another way to monitor how these abilities change, particularly in sheep who carry the gene mutation that causes Huntington’s disease,”. Speaking to The Guardian, Morton said: “We’re hoping that with treatments that improve Huntington’s pathology we’ll see the reversal of some of the cognitive changes. We wanted to understand how the disease starts so we can start thinking about preventing it.”

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