Comparing the face inversion effect in crows and humans

02 Nov 2017

Humans show impaired recognition of faces that are presented upside down, a phenomenon termed face inversion effect, which is thought to reflect the special relevance of faces for humans. Here, we investigated whether a phylogenetically distantly related avian species, the carrion crow, with similar socio-cognitive abilities to human and non-human primates, exhibits a face inversion effect. In a delayed matching-to-sample task, two crows had to differentiate profiles of crow faces as well as matched controls, presented both upright and inverted. Because crows can discriminate humans based on their faces, we also assessed the face inversion effect using human faces. Both crows performed better with crow faces than with human faces, and performed worse when responding to inverted pictures in general compared to upright pictures. However, neither of the crows showed a face inversion effect. For comparative reasons, the tests were repeated with human subjects. As expected, humans showed a face-specific inversion effect. Therefore, we did not find any evidence that crows – like humans – process faces as a special visual stimulus. Instead, individual recognition in crows may be based on cues other than a conspecific’s facial profile, such as their body, or on processing of local features rather than holistic processing.