"We've shown that sheep have advanced face-recognition abilities, comparable with those of humans and monkeys", Professor Jenny Morton, who led the study, said in a statement.
Researchers at the University of Cambridge trained eight sheep to recognize the faces of four celebrities from photos shown on a computer screen.
The farm animals, who are social and have large brains, were previously known to be able to recognize one another, as well as familiar humans. The results were published Wednesday in the Royal Society's Open Science journal as part of research looking into cognitive ability and neurodegenerative disorders, like Huntington's disease, which can impair people's ability to recognize facial emotion.
The group of celebrities the sheep were trained to recognise included actors Emma Watson and Jake Gyllenhaal, BBC newsreader Fiona Bruce and Mr Obama. Since the handler cares for the sheep daily, the animals were familiar with her - although they had never seen a 2-D photo of her face. That's what scientists discovered through testing sheep by showing them celebrity portraits.
The scientists showed eight female sheep portraits of a random person and a celebrity.
A sheep "model" of Huntington's disease has been bred, displaying similar brain and social changes as witnessed in human patients.
"Humans do tend to underestimate the ability of sheep", Morton said by email.
The new evidence suggests that sheep can process information about a human face without requiring a 3-D "real person", said Morton.
The sheep made the correct choice of celebrity or handler roughly 70 percent of the time on average.
The team got success after few days of tutelage of sheep at the Cambridge University in England, where at least 8 sheep could recognize Obama by his picture.
Likewise, when the authors of the new study swapped celebrity photographs with those of the sheep's handlers, the farm animals needed no training. "And there is no reason to think that they would recognize other animals but not humans". The research could even help with research into neurological diseases.
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