Monday, December 12, 2005

Men, Bees, Flowers, and Face Recognition


A new study in the Journal of Experimental Biology suggests that honeybees can be trained to recognize human faces:
In the bee study, [lead researcher Adrian G.] Dyer and two colleagues presented honeybees with photos of human faces taken from a standard human psychology test. The photos had similar lighting, background colors and sizes and included only the face and neck to avoid having the insects make judgments based on the clothing. In some cases, the people in the pictures themselves looked similar.

The researchers, with Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany, tried to train the bees to realize that a photo of one man had a drop of a sugary liquid next to it. Different photos came with a drop of bitter liquid instead.

. . . .

The bees learned to distinguish the correct face from the wrong one with better than 80 percent accuracy, even when the faces were similar, and regardless of where the photos were placed, the researchers found. Also, just like humans, the bees performed worse when the faces were flipped upside-down.
Link (via BoingBoing). There is speculation that the bees are using the same pattern-recognition abilities that allows them to distinguish between species of flowers. Since they don't possess human brains, odds are they aren't using the same functions people have at their disposal, which are intriguing in their own right:
A team from University College London says the first [neurological stage of facial recognition] assesses a face's physical aspects.

The second decides if it is known or unknown. If it is a recognisable face, the third part puts a name to it.

. . . .

The researchers say analysing how we respond to the stages of "morphing" a recognisable figure such as Margaret Thatcher into Marilyn Monroe gives clues as to how we process the facial features we see.

. . . .

A face that was 60% Marilyn Monroe and 40% Margaret Thatcher will be identified as an older version of Marilyn Monroe.

But an image which is 40% Marilyn and 60% Maggie will be seen as the "sexier" side of Margaret Thatcher, say the researchers.
Link. Personally, I'd take an older Marilyn over a "sexy" Margaret Thatcher any day of the week.

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Image credits: (1) Honeybee inspecting a face, courtesy the
Journal of Experimental Biology, borrowed for news-reporting and comment purposes; (2) Marilyn Monroe morphing into Margaret Thatcher, courtesy Nature Neuroscience, borrowed for news-reporting and comment purposes.