Actual Headline: Sheep Recognize Obama

Sheep learnt to recognise Barack Obama after being shown his photo a few dozen times, said a study on November 8 which suggested our four-legged friends may be smarter than we think.

Sheep have been trained to recognise the faces of celebrities, including former United States president Barack Obama, by University of Cambridge scientists who hope it may help with understanding neurodegenerative diseases.

Sheep join the small group of animals shown to recognize human faces, including monkeys, dogs and horses.

"Anyone who has spent time working with sheep will know that they are intelligent, individual animals who are able to recognize their handlers", said study leader Jenny Morton.

The group of celebrities the sheep were trained to recognise included actors Emma Watson and Jake Gyllenhaal, BBC newsreader Fiona Bruce and Mr Obama. "I guess they have extended our work to show that sheep generalize viewpoints of the faces, which does require a rich representation of the identity". A celebrity's face would appear on one screen, while a different image appeared on the other.

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The animals' success rate fell by around 15 per cent when presented with the faces at a new angle, an amount researchers said was comparable to that seen when humans perform the task. This was on par with research in humans - one study in 2000 found that the human ability to recognize unfamiliar faces decreases from 90 percent for frontward faces to about 76 percent when faces are tilted, the authors noted.

According to the study, this ability has been shown before only in humans.

The scientists showed eight female sheep portraits of a random person and a celebrity.

Morton said that future neurological research, using sheep as model organisms, could build from this study.

"Sheep are long-lived and have brains that are similar in size and complexity to those of some monkeys". Maybe they just didn't like that the non-familiar lacked a reward, for example. They were, of course, familiar with them, so when a photo of the coach replaced the photo of the celebrity, they have successfully chosen seven times out of ten.

(Copyright © 2015. All Rights Reserved.)
 
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