The next time you’ve got an urge to swat at a bee flying near your head, think twice: it might just remember your face. Researchers have discovered that bees use the same technique as humans to piece the components of a face including eyes, ears and noses into a recognizable pattern, according to the New York Times.
This ‘configural processing’ allows bees to differentiate one human face from another, the research team reports in The Journal of Experimental Biology.
The researchers, including neural biology professor Martin Giurfa of the University of Toulouse, France, created a display of hand-drawn images including faces and other objects.
Bowls of sugar water were placed in front of the faces, with plain water in front of non-faces. The bees kept returning to the images associated with sugar water.
After a few hours, the bees were able to distinguish faces that provided sugar water from faces that didn’t about 75 percent of the time.
A previous study by Australian researcher Adrian Dyer employed a similar method, but punished the bees with a bitter tasting solution when they were unable to correctly recognize an image. Dyer’s study also prompted the bees to recognize the same human face from various angles.
Both studies may aid in the improvement of computerized facial recognition systems. Since bee brains have only about a million neurons —compared to 100 million in the human brain — the study proves that it doesn’t take a complex neural network to distinguish objects, and that could extend to computers as well.
“We could imagine that through repeat exposure, we may be able to train machines to extract a configuration and know that ‘This a motorbike’ or no, ‘This is rather a dog,’ ” Giurfa told the New York Times.