Sheep can recognise emotions in facial expression, not only in their species but also in humans, researchers say.
The researchers found sheep prefer smiling faces
Researchers at Cambridge University have discovered sheep prefer smiling or relaxed human faces, over angry or stressed ones.
Neuroscientist Dr Keith Kendrick and his team believe the findings may offer insights into some human conditions.
Three years ago, the team found sheep could recognise 50 individual sheep faces and remember them for two years.
"Sheep are able to recognise faces that differ by less than 5% so we thought perhaps they could recognise emotions which are much more subtle," Dr Kendrick said.
"It turns out they can, both human, smiling versus angry; and sheep, stressed versus calm."
Scientists presented the sheep with two doors they could push open to gain food. On one would be a picture of a smiling human or a happy sheep, on the other an angry human or a stressed out sheep.
"They vastly preferred to press the smiling human or the animal that has just had a meal and is feeling all right with life," said Dr Kendrick.
Dr Kendrick and his researchers at the university's Babraham Institute believe their finding may offer valuable insights into autism, schizophrenia and a rare disorder called prosopagnosis which leaves the sufferer unable to recognise faces.
But the research also has wide reaching implications for animal welfare.
Dr Kendrick said: "This does open up the possibility that they have much richer emotional lives than we would give them credit for.
"If sheep, which in terms of domestic animals tend to be right down the bottom of the league table for intelligence, can do this then the likelihood is that
other species can too."