‘Intellect is in itself a mode of exaggeration, and destroys the harmony of any face.’ –Oscar Wilde


Most people recognize faces not from specific features, such as a unique beauty spot or the shape of a nose, but by processing them as a whole, taking in how all the features hang together. Experiments find that people are good at discriminating between facial features—like noses—when they see them in the context of a face but find it much harder when the features are seen in isolation.

Other primates, including chimpanzees and rhesus macaques, use such holistic processing. And studies have even found that honey bees and wasps, trained to recognize human faces, have more difficulty with partial faces than whole ones, suggesting holistic processing. But biologists didn’t know whether insects actually use holistic processing naturally with each other.

Now, an experiment suggests the brains of these wasps process faces all at once—similar to how human facial recognition works.

The finding suggests holistic processing might not require big, complex brains, says Rockefeller University neuroscientist Winrich Freiwald.

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photo { Sheron Rupp, Untitled (Bayside, Ontario, Canada), 1995 }