J. Marzluff et al., PNAS Early Online Edition (2012)

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ScienceShot: Bird Brains Show Their Fear of Faces

Crows don't forget a face—especially one they're afraid of. Now, images of the birds' brain activity reveal what happens neurologically when they see a familiar face. Researchers from the University of Washington donned identical masks and captured 12 wild American crows. The scientists kept the birds in captivity for a month and fed them while wearing a different, "caretaker" mask. Afterward, the team showed the birds humans wearing the two different masks and monitored the crows' brain activity using positron emission tomography. The "threatening" mask the researchers wore to capture the birds activated brain regions associated with fear, the team reports today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The caretaker mask worn to feed the birds, on the other hand, activated another set of regions associated with reward and motivation. These results suggest that American crows, like humans, distinguish faces by combining visual information with preexisting memories.

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