A new study involving honeybees is challenging the assumption that brain size corresponds to brain power. A team of scientists has found that the tiny creatures can do basic math.
Building on the previous discovery that honeybees can understand the concept of zero, scientists from Australia and France tested whether the insects can perform addition and subtraction. Using color-coded shapes, the researchers found that honeybees can be taught simple arithmetic and solve mathematical problems.
Their findings published in the journal Science Advances on Wednesday, Feb. 6, has implications on the future of artificial intelligence, particularly in the development of rapid learning,
Honeybees Do Math
In their study, the team of scientists from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University trained 14 honeybees to recognize colors as different arithmetic operations: blue means addition and yellow means subtraction. The honeybees were made to visit a Y-shaped maze where they were either rewarded with sugar water if their answer is correct or quinine solution if their answer is wrong.
At the entrance of the maze are 1 to 5 blue or yellow shapes, which means that they have to either add or subtract. The bees then fly through a whole where they have to decide to head to the left or right of the maze. One side had the correct answer while the other had the wrong answer. The placement of the correct answer was changed constantly so the bees do not just learn to fly to one side of the maze.
At the start of the experiment, the bees just randomly flew to whichever side of the maze. Eventually, however, they learn how to solve the problem and choose the correct answer.
After over 100 trials, the bees learned that blue meant +1 and yellow meant -1.
"You need to be able to hold the rules around adding and subtracting in your long-term memory, while mentally manipulating a set of given numbers in your short-term memory," said Adrian Dyer, an associate professor at RMIT. "On top of this, our bees also used their short-term memories to solve arithmetic problems, as they learned to recognize plus or minus as abstract concepts rather than being given visual aids."
Honeybees Are Smarter Than Initially Thought
Honeybees, which have brains that are the same size as sesame seeds, can understand the abstract mathematical notion of zero, a study from the same team found last year. The scientists stated that their recent findings prove that advance numerical cognition is not special to humans; it can be found in more animals.
They also believe that the study can help improve rapid learning by incorporating new ways of interactions between long-term rules and working memory into designs.