THEY RECOG­NISE FACES

Focus-Science and Technology - - Zoology -

It might strike you as an odd thing to do, but sci­en­tists at the Univer­sity of Queens­land and the Univer­sity of Ox­ford have taught archer­fish to recog­nise hu­mans faces. They po­si­tioned a com­puter screen above an aquar­ium tank and trained the fish to spit wa­ter at a par­tic­u­lar face, giv­ing them food when­ever they hit the right tar­get. When they were shown dozens of other faces, the archer­fish kept on shoot­ing at the ones they’d learned to as­so­ciate with food.

Dis­tin­guish­ing be­tween faces is a com­plex task in­volv­ing spot­ting sub­tle dif­fer­ences in the same set of fea­tures (two eyes, a nose and a mouth). Ob­vi­ously, archer­fish didn’t evolve a spe­cific abil­ity to recog­nise hu­man faces, but the study shows that even with­out a big brain fish can recog­nise slight dif­fer­ences in their sur­round­ings, pre­sum­ably in­clud­ing other things that are im­por­tant to them, such as preda­tors and prey.

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