Surpassing the subitizing threshold: appetitive-aversive conditioning improves discrimination of numerosities in honeybees [SHORT COMMUNICATION]

Scarlett R. Howard, Aurore Avargues-Weber, Jair E. Garcia, Andrew D. Greentree, and Adrian G. Dyer

Animals including humans, fish and honeybees have demonstrated a quantity discrimination threshold at four objects, often known as subitizing elements. Discrimination between numerosities at or above the subitizing range is considered a complex capacity. In the current study, we trained and tested two groups of bees on their ability to differentiate between quantities (4 versus 5 through to 4 versus 8) when trained with different conditioning procedures. Bees trained with appetitive (reward) differential conditioning demonstrated no significant learning of this task, and limited discrimination above the subitizing range. In contrast, bees trained using appetitive–aversive (reward–aversion) differential conditioning demonstrated significant learning and subsequent discrimination of all tested comparisons from 4 versus 5 to 4 versus 8. Our results show conditioning procedure is vital to performance on numerically challenging tasks, and may inform future research on numerical abilities in other animals.

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