Sheep learned to recognize photos of Obama and other celebrities, neuroscientists say

Ben Guarino writes: Of the roughly 1.1 billion sheep on Earth, roughly 1.1 billion have no idea who Barack Obama is. But there are at least eight sheep who can recognize the former president by his face. After a few days of training at the University of Cambridge in England, the animals learned to select the former president’s portrait out of a collection of photos.

Recognizing Obama meant the sheep won a snack. The scientists, in turn, were rewarded with better ways to measure sheep brain function.

Sheep are about as capable of recognizing faces as monkeys or humans, University of Cambridge researchers report Tuesday in the journal Royal Society Open Science. The Cambridge flock, eight female Welsh Mountain sheep, successfully learned the faces of four celebrities in a recent experiment: Obama, British newscaster Fiona Bruce and actors Emma Watson and Jake Gyllenhaal.

“Sheep are capable of sophisticated decision making,” said study author Jenny Morton, a neurobiologist at the University of Cambridge. Seven years ago, she said, she bought these sheep out of the back of a truck on its way to a slaughterhouse. Morton, who studies Huntington’s disease, uses them as a stand-in for humans, in part because “sheep have large brains with humanlike anatomy.” [Continue reading…]

Like many other research findings, this will garner the response than animals turn out not to be as stupid as humans are inclined to believe.

This experiment, however, invites a rather obvious follow-up: a test to measure the human capacity to recognize sheep’s faces.

I predict that on this score, the human capacity is probably inferior to that of the sheep, which is to say that our anthropocentric habits have rendered us as among the least perceptive of creatures.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email