Study Shows Cows Recognize Their Friends

Bovines recognize familiar faces, distinguish social groups, and acknowledge that photographs are representations of reality.


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A recent feature on research site Faunalytics revealed that when cows examine two-dimensional images such as photographs, they are able to determine familiar and unfamiliar cow faces. In the referenced study, seven cows were presented with two photographs: one of a cow from their social group and another of an unfamiliar cow. The scientists found that five out of seven cows performed explorative behaviors—namely sniffing, licking, and touching—on the familiar photograph at a faster rate and for a longer time than with the unfamiliar photograph. In another test, cows were able to successfully choose three familiar faces out of a group of 20 photographs. Furthermore, researchers determined that cows identified the photographs they were presented as representations of reality rather than separate objects. Similar to human abilities to distinguish faces, this study is evidence that cows can also discriminate between the identity of individuals based on recognition of facial characteristics that, in social contexts, aid the animals in deciding whether a fellow cow is a friend or stranger. According to Faunalytics, “Research on the cognitive and emotional capabilities of farmed animals is in its infancy,” but similar research recently revealed that pigs could also identify friends, have robust memories, and are self-aware.

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