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14 June, 2004

Smiling at sheep

The BBC reports that researchers have found that  sheep are able to recognise emotions in facial expression, not only in their species but also in humans.
In 2001, Cambridge University's Babraham Institute discovered that sheep can recognise 50 individual sheep faces, even those differing by less than 5%, and can remember them for two years.  The more recent study found that they can distinguish between a smiling human face and an angry one, and between the face of a sheep when stressed (insert joke here) and when calm (i.e. a sheep which has just eaten).

I found this via Neil, who comments "still no cure for cancer", but this isn't 'merely' self-serving research (with which I wouldn't necessarily have a problem anyway), having relevance to autism, schizophrenia and prosopagnosis, which renders sufferers unable to recognise faces. There are also implications for animal welfare.

A related article about the 2001 research goes on to mention that whilst goats, cattle and horses are probably able to recognise faces too, dogs and cats have poorer visual systems so may not share this ability.

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