A Study Showing Bees' Ability To Do Basic Math Is Causing Quite The Buzz

The latest buzz going around is that bees are really smart.

In addition to serving a vital purpose for agriculture and the foods that we eat, their brains have enough processing power for their size to do math.

Doesn't add up? A study was published in Science Advantage indicating that more animals possess the capability to perform basic computational skills than we thought. Now that stings.

Scientists trained honeybees to recognize colors as substitutes for plus and minus symbols and were tasked to apply their newly acquired knowledge to solve arithmetic problems.

The success rate was yielded a result of up to 75%.

While it seems pretty basic, the cognitive ability of adding and subtracting is more complex than you think.

Adrian Dyer from RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, said that the complexity of adding and subtracting requires two levels of processing.

"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."
"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."

"Our findings suggest that advanced numerical cognition may be found much more widely in nature among non-human animals than previously suspected."

Dyer concluded that it's not about size.

If a tiny bee brain has the capacity to do math, this discovery could benefit the further development for artificial intelligence.

"If maths doesn't require a massive brain, there might also be new ways for us to incorporate interactions of both long-term rules and working memory into designs to improve rapid AI learning of new problems."

So what did the experiment entail?

For 14 bees, class was in session, and their "professor" was Ph.D. researcher Scarlett Howard in the Bio Inspired Digital Sensing-Lab (BIDS-Lab) at RMIT, who conducted the training.

The bees entered a Y-shaped maze and were introduced to various shapes—a square, diamond, circle or triangle, corresponding to either colors yellow, which represented subtracting, or blue, which represented adding.

Once the bees entered the decision chamber of the Y, they had to choose the left or right fork, with one of them offering the correct solution to a problem of either plus or minus one.

If they chose correctly, the bees were awarded with sugar-water.

If they chose incorrectly, they had a bitter quinine solution.

At the start of the trial, the bees chose their paths randomly, and the correct answer was switched at random to avoid the bees choosing the same side repeatedly. After 100 trials over a duration of 4 to 7 hours, they caught on to the pattern that blue meant +1 and yellow meant - 1.

Howard concluded:

"Our findings show that the complex understanding of maths symbols as a language is something that many brains can probably achieve, and helps explain how many human cultures independently developed numeracy skills."

People fascinated by this experiment made some interesting observations.

Training other subjects may require more effort.

Looks like bees are winning. But who's keeping score anyway?

Thought we were intellectually the most superior species on the planet?

Honey, please.

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