Event Abstract

Honey bees avoiding decisions: evidence for metacognition in an invertebrate?

  • 1 Macquarie University, Biological Sciences, Australia

Metacognition is one of the most sophisticated cognitive capacities, and it is an important question whether this trait is unique to humans or shared, to some extent, with other animals. Here, I investigate whether an invertebrate, the honey bee, possesses the capacity for metacognition in solving a complex visual discrimination task. Free flying bees were trained with differential conditioning to enter a cylinder and choose a variable target above or below a black bar. Changing the angle of the target shape to the horizontal of the reference bar varied the difficulty of this task. Bees performed better on easier trials and worse on more difficult trials. Subsequently, bees were allowed to opt out of the current trial (by flying through an exit port) and begin a new trial. Throughout the experiments, the distance between the target and reference bar and the location of both within the visual field was systematically varied. Of 33 bees that were trained on the above vs. below task, 23 learned the task with greater than or equal to 80% performance on the last 10 trials of training and passed a transfer test (novel target shape). Of these 23 bees, 10 bees learned to use the exit port and continually returned to be trained for a minimum or 50 trials and were then trained to a novel task to test for generalization. The generalization test was a simpler discrimination task to determine if the bees could transfer the concept of opting out. Four of the remaining 10 bees successfully transferred the use of the exit port on the novel task. The bees that generalized (GT+), as a group, opted out of more difficult trials more often than easier trials. GT+ bees showed significantly better performance on unforced trials (exit port available) than on forced trials (no exit port available). Additionally, GT+ bees took more time to opt out on more difficult trials than on easier trials. My results show that a subset of bees display behavior that is supportive of metacognition: 1) opt out more often as difficulty of task increases, 2) transfer the concept of opting out to a newly learned task, 3) perform better on trials where they have the option to avoid the decision and 4) take more time to opt out of more difficult trials. These results support the idea that some bees have some basic level of metacognitive ability in certain tasks. Metacognition therefore is not restricted to vertebrates and can be accomplished in a much smaller and limited brain.

Keywords: honey bees, metacognition

Conference: Tenth International Congress of Neuroethology, College Park. Maryland USA, United States, 5 Aug - 10 Aug, 2012.

Presentation Type: Poster (but consider for participant symposium and student poster award)

Topic: Cognition

Citation: Perry CJ and Barron AB (2012). Honey bees avoiding decisions: evidence for metacognition in an invertebrate?. Conference Abstract: Tenth International Congress of Neuroethology. doi: 10.3389/conf.fnbeh.2012.27.00174

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Received: 28 Apr 2012; Published Online: 07 Jul 2012.

* Correspondence: Dr. Clint J Perry, Macquarie University, Biological Sciences, Marsfield, NSW, 2122, Australia, clintjperry@gmail.com