Researchers at Cambridge University led by neurobiology professor Jenny Morton conducted the study by leading 8 different sheep one at a time into a research barn and showing them a photo of one of four celebrities: Barack Obama, Emma Watson, Fiona Bruce, and Jake Gyllenhall.
It's always been known a flock can become familiar with the visages of their human handlers.
The researchers say this study of the ability of sheep to recognize faces may be useful in research into Huntington's disease and other human brain disorders that affect mental processing. The sheep could even recognize images of faces shown at an angle, though their ability to do so declined by about 15 percent - the same rate at which a human's ability to perform the same task declines.
"This ability has previously been shown only in humans", the scientists write.
"We chose these people because there were lots of images of each person available on line, both front-on and taken at different angles", study co-author Jennifer Morton of the University of Cambridge told AFP. The team is studying sheep with the genetic mutation that causes the disease. In this test, sheep correctly chose the learned face eight times out of 10. "Although I didn't think sheep could recognize emotion, it made me think about face recognition as a complex brain process". And humans use faces for more than recognition, he wrote: "Our emotions, the open and instinctive emotions that Darwin wrote about, as well as the hidden or repressed ones that Freud wrote about, are displayed on our faces, along with our thoughts and intentions".
Likewise, when the authors of the new study swapped celebrity photographs with those of the sheep's handlers, the farm animals needed no training. When a portrait of the handler was interspersed randomly, the sheep chose them seven out of 10 times. "But the evidence is compelling", Morton said.