• Archerfish can recognise faces. Photo credit: The University of QueenslandArcherfish can recognise faces. Photo credit: The University of Queensland

University of Queensland study reveals that fish can recognise human faces

The tropical archerfish can recognise people and spit at familiar faces, researchers from the University of Queensland and University of Oxford have found.

The findings suggest that human facial recognition may be driven by learned behavior, rather than innate processes within the brain.  Dr Ulrike Siebeck from the University of Queensland School of Biomedical Science explained: “This is the first time any fish has been known to demonstrate this ability, and it comes as a surprise, as fish lack the brain area (neocortex) used for this task by humans.”

During testing the fish were able to consistently identify the learned face from up to 44 faces. On average the fish’s accuracy was between 81 to 86 percent, even when obvious facial features such as head shape and colour were standardized.

Dr Siebeck said there are two rival theories about how humans recognise faces: “One is that the human brain requires a specialised area of the brain that provides us with an innate ability to recognise faces, the other is that it is learned behavior. As archerfish do not have a neocortex, and are unlikely to have evolved a specialised area for human face recognition, this study adds weight to the theory that facial recognition is learned behaviour. This would impact on our understanding of human visual perception.”

The full study is published in the journal Scientific Reports. You can also watch a short video from the experiment on YouTube.

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