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Bees Can Link Symbols To Numbers, Study Finds

Thursday June 6, 2019. 05:30 AM , from Slashdot
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Phys.Org: Researchers have trained honeybees to match a character to a specific quantity, revealing they are able to learn that a symbol represents a numerical amount. The discovery, from the same Australian-French team that found bees get the concept of zero and can do simple arithmetic, also points to new approaches for bio-inspired computing that can replicate the brain's highly efficient approach to processing. Associate Professor Adrian Dyer said while humans were the only species to have developed systems to represent numbers, like the Arabic numerals we use each day, the research shows the concept can be grasped by brains far smaller than ours.

In a Y-shaped maze, individual bees were trained to correctly match a character with a number of elements. They were then tested on whether they could apply their new knowledge to match the character to various elements of the same quantity (in the same way that '2' can represent two bananas, two trees or two hats). A second group was trained in the opposite approach, matching a number of elements with a character. While both could grasp their specific training, the different groups were unable to reverse the association and work out what to do when tested with the opposite (character-to-number or number-to-character). As for what this means, Dr. Scarlett Howard, the researcher who conducted the experiment, said: 'This suggests that number processing and understanding of symbols happens in different regions in bee brains, similar to the way separate processing happens in the human brain. Our results show honeybees are not at the same level as the animals that have been able to learn symbols as numbers and perform complex tasks. But the results have implications for what we know about learning, reversing tasks, and how the brain creates connections and associations between concepts.'
He added: 'Discovering how such complex numerical skills can be grasped by miniature brains will help us understand how mathematical and cultural thinking evolved in humans, and possibly, other animals.' The study has been published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

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