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A study finds that bees can link symbols with numbers



Bees can link symbols to numbers: study

Research shows that the brains of bees may be able to connect symbols to numbers. Credit: RMIT University

We have learned that bees can understand zero and do basic calculations, and now a new study shows that their tiny insect brains may be able to connect symbols with numbers.

Researchers have trained bees to match a character with a specific amount, revealing that they are capable of learning that a symbol represents a numerical quantity.

It is a finding that sheds new light on how numerical abilities may have evolved over millennia and even opens up new possibilities for communication between humans and other species.

The discovery, from the same Australian-French team that discovered that bees have the concept of zero and can do simple arithmetic, also points to new approaches to bio-inspired computing that can replicate the highly efficient approach to brain processing.

The study conducted by the RMIT University is published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Associate Professor Adrian Dyer said that while humans were the only species that had developed systems for representing numbers, such as the Arabic numbers we use every day, research shows that brains are much smaller than the concept.

"We take it for granted once we learn our numbers as children, but being able to recognize what it really represents requires a sophisticated level of cognitive ability," said Dyer.

"Studies have shown that primates and birds can also learn to link symbols with numbers, but this is the first time we see this in insects.

"Humans have more than 86 billion neurons in our brains, bees are less than a million and we are separated by more than 600 million years of evolution.

Bees can link symbols to numbers: study

Details of the experimental configuration used to train and test the bees. Credit: RMIT University

"But if bees have the ability to learn something as complex as a symbolic language created by man, this opens up new and exciting paths for future communication between species."

Mini brains, maximum potential: what the bees learned.

Studies have shown that several non-human animals have been able to learn that symbols can represent numbers, such as pigeons, parrots, chimpanzees and monkeys.

Some of his exploits have been impressive: the chimpanzees were taught the Arabic numbers and could order them correctly, while an African gray parrot named Alex could learn the names of the numbers and could add the numbers.

The new study shows for the first time that this complex cognitive ability is not restricted to vertebrates.

The bee experiment was conducted by Dr. Scarlett Howard, formerly Ph.D. researcher at the Bio Inspired Digital Sensing-Lab (BIDS-Lab) at RMIT and now a member of the Research Center on Animal Cognition, University of Toulouse III – Paul Sabatier, CNRS.

In a Y-shaped labyrinth, individual bees were trained to correctly match a character with a series of elements.

Then it was evaluated if they could apply their new knowledge to relate the character with several elements of the same amount (in the same way that & # 39; 2 can represent two bananas, two trees or two hats).

A second group was trained in the opposite approach, matching several elements with a character.

Bees can link symbols to numbers: study

The bees were trained and tested in a Y-shaped labyrinth. Credit: RMIT University

While both were able to capture their specific training, the different groups could not revert the association and figure out what to do when tested with the opposite (character by number or number by character).

"This suggests that numerical processing and symbol understanding occur in different regions in the brains of bees, similar to how separate processing occurs in the human brain," said Howard.

"Our results show that bees are not at the same level as 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, the reversal of tasks and how the brain creates connections and associations between concepts.

"Discovering how complex numerical skills can be understood by miniature brains will help us understand how mathematical and cultural thinking evolved in humans, and possibly in other animals."

The study of insect brains offers interesting possibilities for the future design of highly efficient computer systems, said Dyer.

"When we look for solutions to complex problems, we often find that nature has already done the job in a much more elegant and efficient way," he said.

"Understanding how small bees' brains handle information opens up paths to bio-inspired solutions that use a fraction of the power of conventional processing systems."

The document, "Symbolic representation of the number of bees (Apis mellifera): relating characters with small quantities" with the co-authors Aurore Avarguès-Weber (University of Toulouse), Jair Garcia (School of Media and Communication, RMIT) and Professor Andrew Greentree (ARC Center of Excellence for Nanoscale Biophotonics, RMIT), is published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.


Scientists discover that bees understand the concept of zero.


More information:
Symbolic representation of the number of bees (Apis mellifera): matching characters with small amounts, Proceedings of the Royal Society B, rspb.royalsocietypublishing.or … .1098 / rspb.2019.0238

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