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Proc Biol Sci. 2013 Oct 9;280(1772):20131907. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2013.1907. Print 2013 Dec 7.

Conceptual learning by miniature brains.

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Research Centre for Animal Cognition, Université de Toulouse, UPS, , 118 Route de Narbonne, 31062 Toulouse Cedex 9, France, Research Centre for Animal Cognition, CNRS, , 118 Route de Narbonne, 31062 Toulouse Cedex 9, France.


Concepts act as a cornerstone of human cognition. Humans and non-human primates learn conceptual relationships such as 'same', 'different', 'larger than', 'better than', among others. In all cases, the relationships have to be encoded by the brain independently of the physical nature of objects linked by the relation. Consequently, concepts are associated with high levels of cognitive sophistication and are not expected in an insect brain. Yet, various works have shown that the miniature brain of honeybees rapidly learns conceptual relationships involving visual stimuli. Concepts such as 'same', 'different', 'above/below of' or 'left/right are well mastered by bees. We review here evidence about concept learning in honeybees and discuss both its potential adaptive advantage and its possible neural substrates. The results reviewed here challenge the traditional view attributing supremacy to larger brains when it comes to the elaboration of concepts and have wide implications for understanding how brains can form conceptual relations.


Apis mellifera; concept learning; honeybee; insect cognition; visual cognition

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