A species of tropical fish has been shown to be able to distinguish between human faces. It is the first time fish have demonstrated this ability.
First author Dr Cait Newport, Marie Curie Research Fellow in the Department of Zoology at Oxford University, said: ‘Being able to distinguish between a large number of human faces is a surprisingly difficult task, mainly due to the fact that all human faces share the same basic features. All faces have two eyes above a nose and mouth, therefore to tell people apart we must be able to identify subtle differences in their features. If you consider the similarities in appearance between some family members, this task can be very difficult indeed.
‘It has been hypothesized that this task is so difficult that it can only be accomplished by primates, which have a large and complex brain. The fact that the human brain has a specialized region used for recognizing human faces suggests that there may be something special about faces themselves. To test this idea, we wanted to determine if another animal with a smaller and simpler brain, and with no evolutionary need to recognize human faces, was still able to do so.’
The researchers found that fish, which lack the sophisticated visual cortex of primates, are nevertheless capable of discriminating one face from up to 44 new faces. The research provides evidence that fish (vertebrates lacking a major part of the brain called the neocortex) have impressive visual discrimination abilities. More. Paper. (public access) – Cait Newport, Guy Wallis, Yarema Reshitnyk, Ulrike E. Siebeck. Discrimination of human faces by archerfish (Toxotes chatareus). Scientific Reports, 2016; 6: 27523 DOI: 10.1038/srep27523
The fish in question are archerfish, whose mode of life depends on correctly identifying a target. That probably has something to do with it. A mole might not recognize anyone’s face, including its own.
The take-home point is that intelligence does not depend on having a specific type of brain. On what, then, does it depend?
See also: Furry, feathery, and finny animals speak their minds
Does intelligence depend on a specific type of brain?
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