The Science Behind Bees and Emotions

Scientists have long been interested in bees. Bees are an integral part of the success of farming and plant growth around the world. This means that there have been thousands of laboratory research notebooks used to record and analyze bee behavior. A new study has been performed which seems to show that bees experience emotions and display a great deal of intelligence.

Bees and Emotions

Colors and Treats

As part of this study bees were trained using a sugar water reward to choose between a blue flower tunnel and a green flower tunnel. Blue had a treat and green did not. When bees were presented with both flower colors, they either did not enter the tunnel at all or they took quite a while to enter. If the bees were given a tasty sugar treat before being presented with the tunnel that featured both colors they entered a little more quickly.

So, it is one thing to say that bees can be trained to know which colorful blooms will present them with the sweetest reward, but there is no conclusive evidence that these results are based on emotions. More than likely it is a bit of intelligence and the goal of finding the best treats.

Avoidance Behavior

One aspect of the study was to simulate an attack from a predator. After this simulated attack, bees that had not been given a sip of sugar water beforehand took a longer time to begin foraging again. So, does this mean that sugar boosts the bees’ confidence or helps them overcome fear of a predator more quickly?  Again, there are no conclusive results as of yet, but, as humans, we know that a sugar rush is almost like a high and can lead to more outgoing behavior, risk taking, and a general feeling of happiness.

Dopamine

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is often considered a happy hormone. When the dopamine was blocked on the bees in the study, the sugar treat no longer had any effect. The bees’ behaviors were no longer about seeking a reward or basking in a sugar buzz euphoria. The exact science involved in what makes bees behave the way they do, and whether those behaviors can be altered in order to further improve farming and pollination techniques, is still up in the air.

Clint Perry of Queen Mary University of London states, “We normally think of an emotion as the internal awareness of a feeling, but there’s more to it than that. Physical changes to your body and shifts in your behavior accompany sensations of happiness or sadness. Many of these things actually cause the subjective feelings we have; those are all necessary parts of emotion.”

While humans may respond optimistically to most situations when they are feeling the happiest, the result of this study is that bees tend to be optimistic or responsive to food triggers. Of course, like the rest of nature, food makes us all a bit happier!  As for whether bees experience emotions, scientists better get back to the drawing board and purchase several more scientific notebooks for future studies. To learn more about the intersection of science and wildlife, follow the Scientific Notebook Company blog today.

Avoidance Behavior

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