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Face and Species Recognition

Recognition and correct classification of visually acquired objects is important for the survival of all creatures. In biological terms, classification errors almost always lead to loss of fitness (e.g. incorrect classification of another animal as a competitor may lead to costly agonistic behaviour, and the incorrect classification of a predator may lead to death). Evolution should thus strongly favour animals that are able to learn to correctly recognise and classify objects in the world around them.

Understanding how patterns and faces are processed by the visual system and brain is also important if we want to understand the causes of systematic classification deficits in humans, such as prosopagnosia (inability to recognise faces). We are using a comparative approach, combining animal behaviour with machine learning and computer vision methodologies.

We are investigating face, pattern and object recognition abilities in lower vertebrates (fish, with no visual cortex), so as to understand the underlying mechanisms. We have already found evidence for parallel processing for colour and luminance information in fish, which is similar to what we know about human visual processing along the ventral and dorsal streams in the cortex and have discovered that fish are able to discriminate fish as well as human faces to a high degree of accuracy.

During his Masters project in my lab, Rainer Obergrussberger developed custom software which allowed us to capture, extract and manipulate the UV facial patterns of reef fish.  

Dr. Siebeck’s training at the Max Planck Institute for biological Cybernetics in Tubingen, Germany on scanning and manipulating human heads for the creation of a human face database inspired the creation of a similar fish face database. Through that we discovered that the facial pattern of each fish (Pomacentrus amboinensis) is as unique as a fingerprint. This finding shows just how sophisticated the secret language of fish might be and also that these fish are a great model system for studying visual processing of complex patterns including faces.

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Ambon damselfish as it appears to human eyes. B/w: UV patterns of Ambon damselfish made visible by photographing them through a UV-pass filter.

Archer fish Spitting at a screen which is suspended over the aquarium. We are using their ability to select stimuli by spitting at them to investigate their visual discrimination as well as their cognitive abilities

Collaborators and students

Latest news

Our paper on Human face recognition in Archerfish is out!
Scientific Reports
For media coverage see this website
PUBLISHED June 7 2016

2016 Siebeck Visual Neuroethology Lab
Web design: Diana Kleine – Photos: Uli Siebeck, Maxi Eckes