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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2005 Apr 5;102(14):5250-5. Epub 2005 Mar 28.

Visual working memory in decision making by honey bees.

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  • 1Centre for Visual Sciences, Research School of Biological Sciences, Australian National University, P.O. Box 475, Canberra ACT 2601, Australia.


The robustness and plasticity of working memory were investigated in honey bees by using a delayed matching-to-sample (DMTS) paradigm. The findings are summarized as follows: first, performance in the DMTS task decreases as the duration between the presentation of the sample stimulus and the presentation of the comparison stimuli is increased. This decrease is well approximated by an exponential decay function. Performance is significantly better than random-choice level even at delays as long as 5 sec and is reduced to random-choice levels at an average delay time of 8.68 +/- 0.06 sec. Second, when the DMTS task involves two samples (one relevant, the other irrelevant), bees can be trained to learn to use the relevant sample to perform the task if (i) the relevant sample is always at a fixed position, or (ii) the relevant sample always has the same place in the sequence of presentation (always first or always second). Bees that have learned to use the relevant sample and to ignore the irrelevant sample can generalize this learning, and apply it to novel sets of sample and comparison stimuli that they have never previously encountered. The findings point to a remarkably robust, and yet plastic, working memory in the honey bee.

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