British scientists came this Tuesday with great news after finding that monkeys and people are not the only ones who can differentiate human faces. They proved that sheep are also able to perform this uncommon-in-animals task because they are “capable of sophisticated decision making.”

In a set of trials, the researchers gathered a total of eight female Welsh Mountain sheep and demanded them to choose a specific face. One of these was from the former US President, but the others were from celebrities. These people became the first four who can now say “hey, a sheep just recognized my face.”

Surprisingly, scientists didn’t take long to train the sheep.

Every time the animals achieved their goal, they were rewarded with food. However, the researchers were who ended gaining more after knowing the results of this experiment.

Although scientists don’t know if all the sheep existing on our planet are as intelligent as the ones from this group, they believe this impressive ability is not a coincidence for them. What’s sure is that none of them knew before the faces of Barack Obama, British newscaster Fiona Bruce, and actors Emma Watson and Jake Gyllenhaal.

The lead researcher and neurobiologist at the University of Cambridge, Jenny Morton, said that she bought the sheep seven years ago after finding that they were destined to end at a slaughterhouse.

Sheep, Sheep abilities, Sheep decision making
A sheep recognizing the face of Emma Watson. Image credit: University of Cambridge

Morton is also studying Huntington’s disease, and these seven animals helped her to understand more about it because “sheep have large brains with humanlike anatomy,” as she told.

For any person, the kind of tests the animals were submitted is very easy. But for them, who are just animals and don’t know anything about films or politics  or having a self-consciousness  this task seemed to be at first very complicated.

However, the sheep proved the opposite entirely.

The sheep successfully chose the right face 8 out of 10 times

Scientists demanded the sheep to perform the same test in three different levels. In just fifteen seconds, the animals had to approach the right face and the wrong option  where a camera was hidden in between  select the correct image and trigger an infrared sensor, and wait for their prize-snack to celebrate.

The first level consisted in choosing between the face of the wanted person, and a completely-black image.

The second one was, of course, a little bit harder. The sheep had to pick between the face and something randomly chosen by scientists among 62 objects similar to a face shape  like a balloon or a pillow, for example.

In the third and last level, scientists provided the sheep with two faces entirely unrelated. It’s great to know that eight out of ten times, the sheep achieved their goals and ended eating a yummy snack.

“We chose the celebrities almost randomly,” Morton said. “I wanted people that the sheep had not met (I am very sure of this).”

This result brings the scientific community with lights of sheep-knowledge, which would be useful knowing the similarities between them and humans. However, there’s still a lot of research to be done if experts want to achieve a concrete conclusion.

Source: Royal Society Open Science