Spontaneous relational and object similarity in wild bumblebees



Martin-Ordas G (2022) Spontaneous relational and object similarity in wild bumblebees. Biology Letters, 18 (8), Art. No.: 20220253.

Being able to abstract relations of similarity is considered one of the hallmarks of human cognition. While previous research has shown that other animals (e.g. primates) can attend to relational similarity, they struggle to focus on object similarity. This is in contrast with humans. And it is precisely the ability to attend to objects that it is argued to make relational reasoning uniquely human. What about invertebrates? Despite earlier studies indicating that bees are capable of learning abstract relationships (e.g. ‘same’ and ‘different’), no research has investigated whether bees can spontaneously attend to relational similarity and whether they can do so when relational matches compete with object matches. To test this, a spatial matching task (with and without competing object matches) previously used with children and great apes was adapted for use with wild-caught bumblebees. When object matches were not present, bumblebees spontaneously used relational similarity. Importantly, when competing object matches were present, bumblebees still focused on relations over objects. These findings indicate that the absence of object bias is also present in invertebrates and suggest that the relational gap between humans and other animals is due to their preference for relations over objects.

bumblebees; invertebrates; reasoning; object similarity; relational similarity

Biology Letters: Volume 18, Issue 8

FundersEuropean Commission (Horizon 2020)
Publication date31/08/2022
Publication date online31/08/2022
Date accepted by journal08/08/2022
PublisherThe Royal Society

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Dr Gema Martin-Ordas

Dr Gema Martin-Ordas

Senior Lecturer, Psychology