A research group at the Babraham Institute has found that the sight of a friendly face can reduce stress in sheep. This discovery, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society: Biological Sciences, could point to the reason that many of us carry pictures of loved ones in our wallets or handbags.
The scientists, led by Professor Keith Kendrick, put sheep into a darkened barn on their own and showed them various faces, while recording their behaviour. Stress was measured by monitoring the number of times each sheep bleated, its movement within the barn and its heart-rate. Blood samples were taken to measure the levels of cortisol and adrenaline, which are both 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. The areas of the brain which control fear and the stress response also showed reduced activation.
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