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Sheep put brave face on stress
Updated: 2004-08-26 09:06

Sheep have shown researchers why stressed-out people are comforted by the sight of a friendly face.

Sheep became less agitated when shown a friendly face.
Scientists at the Babraham Institute in the eastern English city of Cambridge discovered that when sheep were isolated, showing them faces of familiar sheep helped to soothe them.

The findings released on Wednesday helps explain why many people carry photos of loved ones in their wallets, researchers believe.

The scientists, led by Professor Keith Kendrick, placed 40 sheep on their own in a darkened barn and showed them various faces.

Their stress levels were monitored by looking at the number of times each sheep bleated, its movement within the barn and its heart-rate.

Blood samples were also taken to measure the levels of cortisol and adrenaline, which are chemical indicators of stress.

When the sheep were shown faces of sheep familiar to them, they became less stressed, and showed fewer signs of agitation than when they were shown goat faces or triangles, researchers found, according the UK's Press Association.

Prof Kendrick told PA: "Very few experiments have been done with face recognition on species other than monkeys and sheep but we are sure that species which have reasonable face recognition, including dogs, will react in the same way.

"Some dogs really don't like being left by their owner so it might by that one way of keeping them calm and stopping them trashing the place is to provide them with a picture of their owner.

"In the same way, when young children are first separated from their parents, it may be that providing them with photos of their parents calms them down."

"(Fear and emotion are controlled) by the right-hand side of the brain in sheep just like us."

The researchers were conducting more tests on the sheep by showing them videos of sheep with different facial expressions, to see what effect this has on their stress levels.

Kendrick said he hoped the findings would help lead to a better understanding of neurological disorders such as Asperger's Syndrome and schizophrenia.

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