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:
Conceptual learning in ants
In a project led by PhD student Felix Oberhauser, we are testing whether ants can learn abstract concepts, such as 'the same' and 'different'. This work was directly inspired by the work of our collaborator, Martin Giurfa, whose group has demonstrated impressive cognitive feats in honeybees. Preliminary results suggest that ants may not be able to learn this task. Intriguingly, however, individual ants develop their own individual methods for coping with a (for them) unsolvable task - a striking case of heuristic development in insects.
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.