Dr Ulrike Siebeck: research finds fish can distinguish human faces

9 Jun 2016

An SBMS research team led by Dr Ulrike Siebeck has discovered that archerfish can discriminate between human faces. This is the first time fish have been known to demonstrate this ability.

In the UQ study, archerfish were trained to choose a particular human face for a reward and ignore a second non-rewarded face. During testing they were then able to consistently identify the learned face from up to 44 new faces.

The fish achieved an accuracy average of between 81% and 86% over two experiments, even when obvious facial features such as head shape and colour were standardized for all faces.

The research was published today in the journal Scientific Reports.

Dr Siebeck said the findings would help improve understanding of human visual perception.

“There are two rival theories about how humans recognise faces,” she said.

“One is that it requires a specialised area in the cortex of the human brain which provides us with an innate ability to recognise faces, the other is that it is learned behaviour.

“As archerfish do not have a cortex, 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.”

The lead author of the study is former SBMS PhD student and research team member Dr Cait Newport.

Dr Newport was awarded a Marie Curie Individual Fellowship in June 2015 to undertake further research as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Oxford.

A news release with further comments from Dr Newport is available on the University of Oxford website.

Media: Dr Uli Siebeck, +61 3365 4070, u.siebeck@uq.edu.au

Images: Dr Caitlin Newport