In humans, neural circuits within specific brain regions produce similar responses whether a person sees a familiar face or just forms a mental image of the face. Preliminary evidence suggests that sheep are also able to form mental images of other sheep in their absence.
As they stand huddled with the rest of their flock in what appears like a grazing stupor, sheep may in fact be visualizing long departed flock mates. Or forming a mental image of an ovine bully causing it particular distress.
Given a sheep's ability for facial recognition, mixing and matching different flocks of sheep may be quite distressing to the animal, said Kendrick.
In upcoming research Kendrick's goal is to study how analysis of a face changes over time. He intends to measure the individual activities of hundreds of cells in the facial recognition region of the sheep brain and monitor how these responses vary over time.
These observations could eventually form the basis of sophisticated software designed specifically for face recognition.
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