Animal Cognition

, Volume 22, Issue 2, pp 153–162 | Cite as

Does a cichlid fish process face holistically? Evidence of the face inversion effect

  • Kento KawasakaEmail author
  • Takashi Hotta
  • Masanori Kohda
Original Paper


Faces are the most important body part for differentiating among human individuals by humans. Humans read the face as a whole, rather than looking at its parts, which makes it more difficult to recognise inverted faces than upright. Some other mammals also identify each other based on the upright face and take longer to recognise inverted faces. This effect is called the face inversion effect and is considered as evidence for face-specific perception. This ability has rarely been observed in animals other than mammals, but it was recently reported that some fish species could distinguish among individuals based on the face. For example, the cichlid fish Neolamprologus pulcher rapidly recognises familiar conspecifics by faces rather than other body parts. Here, we examined the face inversion effect in N. pulcher, by showing photographs of conspecific fish faces and objects in both upright and inverted orientations. Subjects gazed at novel faces longer than familiar faces in upright presentation, whereas they did not show such a tendency for inverted faces. Although the object discrimination was difficult, we did not observe the difference between upright and inverted object photographs. Our results indicate that fish exhibits the inversion effect for faces. These findings suggest that N. pulcher may process their conspecifics’ face holistically, like humans.


Cichlid fish Face inversion effect Face perception Holistic processing Visual paired comparison 



We thank the members of the Laboratory of Animal Sociology, Osaka City University, for their general assistance and fruitful discussion.

Author contributions.

KK, TH, and MK conceived and designed the experiments. KK performed the experiments and analysed the data. KK, TH, and MK contributed reagents/materials/analysis tools. KK, TH, and MK wrote this paper.


This study was financially supported by Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) Grants-in-aid of Scientific Research (KAKENHI) (Nos. 26540070, 26118511, 16H05773, and 17K18712) to MK and (No. H16J09486) to TH.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

Authors KK, TH, and MK declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethics statement

Our experiment did not kill study fish. Fish were fed sufficient food once per day and kept in good aquarium conditions. Diseased or injured individuals were removed from the experimental aquarium, treated with medication, and used only after recovery. Our experiments were conducted in compliance with the Guidelines for Animal Welfare of the Japan Ethological Society, and the Animal Care and Use Committee of Osaka City University. No permits from Japanese government were needed for experiments involving N. pulcher.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Laboratory of Animal Sociology, Department of Biology and Geosciences, Graduate School of ScienceOsaka City UniversityOsakaJapan
  2. 2.Department of Psychology, Graduate School of LettersKyoto UniversityKyotoJapan

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