The Cambridge University team which discovered that sheep prefer happy, smiley people has once again pushed back the envelope of ovine understanding with the revelation that sheep cheer up when they see snaps of friends and relatives.
According to the Telegraph (registration required), team supremo professor Keith Kendrick reckons that "seeing a face picture of a friend or family member would be the most effective way of reducing separation anxiety".
The Cambridge sheep worriers proved this by locking their guinea sheep in a darkened barn and showing them various faces. Stress was monitored noting "the number of times each sheep bleated, its movement within the barn and its heart rate". This being real science, the sheeps' levels of cortisol and adrenaline were also recorded.
The results of the experiment were apparently significant: "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. The areas of the brain which control fear and the stress response also showed reduced activation," the paper reports.
The implications of these findings for humanity cannot be underestimated. The researchers conclude that: "These results provide evidence that face pictures may be useful for relieving stress caused by unavoidable social isolation in sheep, and possibly other animal species, including humans." Kendrick added: "In this sense sheep may provide a comparison with us carrying around pictures of loved ones in our wallets, handbags and so on."
So, to summarise, carrying around a pic of a loved one can help us stay more content, more rounded human beings. And the same goes for sheep who, while "apparently ruminating mindlessly, could be dwelling on long-absent flock mates, mothers or even shepherds". Yes, the image of a woolly lonesome pining for farmer Giles on some wind-swept Cumbrian hillside is an appealing one. We cannot help but feel that it is only a matter of time before the Cambridge boffins wow the world of science yet again with an eye-opening analysis of humano-ovine sexual yearning, and await the results with eager anticipation. ®