Bees have often been associated with swarm intelligence as researchers have tried to understand their thinking. A recent paper suggests that bees can also learn football in addition to previous proof of their intelligence.
While bees are believed to be very organized and productive, a number of studies have suggested other qualities of the tiny creatures in the hive, among which is the similarity of their decision-making processes with the human neural activity.
Bees Capable Of Complex Cognitive Functions
It's possible that bees exhibit emotions, according to one of these studies. Researchers from Newcastle University have published a paper, back in 2011, suggesting that agitated honeybees exhibit pessimistic cognitive biases. According to the study, agitated bees exhibit a higher expectation of negative outcomes, judging by the drops in dopamine, octopamine, and serotonin associated with agitation.
"In demonstrating state-dependent modulation of categorization in bees, and thereby a cognitive component of emotion, we show that the bees' response to a negatively valenced event has more in common with that of vertebrates than previously thought. This finding reinforces the use of cognitive bias as a measure of negative emotional states across species and suggests that honeybees could be regarded as exhibiting emotions," noted the research.
Another study from 2011, conducted by researchers from Cornell University, showed that bees use inhibitory "stop signals," manifested by a short buzz inhibiting the waggle dances. The buzz becomes more powerful when the group of scouts is larger, which helps sneering that one of multiple sites is chosen. According to the researchers, this type of behavior is most important when two sites are equally good.
This decision-making mechanism is strikingly similar to the ones in the human brain. As numerous studies have been led with the purpose to establish the underlying mechanisms behind complex decision-making processes in the human brain, this paper managed to correlate the two cases. In both the human brain and the population of bees, noisy evidence is integrated in evaluating alternatives. Additionally, in both cases, an alternative is chosen when one population exceeds a certain threshold.
"We show that a key feature of a brain — cross inhibition between the evidence-accumulating populations — also exists in a swarm as it chooses its nesting site. [...] An analytic model shows that cross inhibition between populations of scout bees increases the reliability of swarm decision-making by solving the problem of deadlock over equal sites," noted the paper.
These two studies have underlined the type of intelligence employed by bees as being similar to the cognitive mechanisms of the human mind.
Bees Show Impressive Cognitive Flexibility
Recently, a new study showed that bumblebees can be trained to score goals, using a ball, revealing extraordinary learning abilities. The results were all the more impressive, as the tasks given to the bumblebees were nothing like anything they can encounter in real life. This research is built up on the idea that bees are capable of impressively high cognitive tasks.
"Instead of copying demonstrators moving balls over long distances, observers solved the task more efficiently, using the ball positioned closest to the target, even if it was of a different color than the one previously observed," noted the paper.