Sheep in a field

Happy faces – sheep style

Can animals draw information from faces in the way we can? The evidence seems to suggest that, to some degree, they can

Many animals are social, and for them, being able to identify individuals and pick up social cues would seem to be highly advantageous.

Smell is used by many animals, such as mice, to identify individuals. Elephants can keep track of up to 30 individuals on the basis of smell. Primates, though, seem to rely on vision.

One animal studied intensively is the sheep. They have surprisingly sophisticated face-recognition systems that appear very similar to those of humans. They can detect emotional states of other animals – the flared nostril is a give-away. They can also spot the difference between different human expressions – they prefer happy faces to sad ones.

Lead image:

Mike Haller/Flickr CC BY


About this resource

This resource was first published in ‘How We Look’ in June 2008 and reviewed and updated in November 2014.

How We Look
Education levels:
16–19, Continuing professional development