Invertebrate comparative psychology

Insects have traditionally been assumed to have very simple cognitive abilities. However, there is growing evidence that tiny-brained insects can perform surprising cognitive feats. For example, recent findings from our lab show that ants can:

 

Current ongoing comparative psychology projects include:

Cognitive control and cognitive interference

A classic psychological tool for examining cognitive control is the Stroop colour word test. In these tests, participants either have to read a colour word or report the colour it is written in. Reading is more habitual, so reading the word RED is easier than reporting the colour blue. Delays and errors decrease, however, if you have just had to do the same task (e.g. report the colour) previously.

In collaboration with the cognitive psychologist Prof. Gesine Dreisbach we are developing a version of the Stroop colour word test for ants. This will enable us to examine cognitive control and interference in invertebrates.

Cognitive flexibility

 Ants learn very rapidly. They also follow pheromone trails without needing to learn to do so. They can even learn to ignore pheromone trails. But how flexible is ant learning? Can they learn the opposite of an instinctual response? In other words, can they learn to avoid pheromone trails. Katharina Wenig is trying to find out. Spoiler alert: apparently not. We find a very well-defined limit to flexibility, where ants quickly learn to ignore, but can never learn to avoid, a pheromone trail. They do manage to develop clever systems for solving the problem anyway - but you'll have to wait for the publication to find out what!