Mechanisms and Evolution of Sociobiological Cognition

Kevin Passino
Electrical and Computer Engineering, The Ohio State University

(October 18, 2005 4:30 PM - 5:30 PM)

Mechanisms and Evolution of Sociobiological Cognition

Abstract

Honey bee swarms perform a nest-site selection task that involves search, nest-site assessment, and group agreement before the swarm flies to its new home. Swarm cluster elements can be identified that have close analogs to known components and structures in neuron-based brains of animals that perform perception-attention- choice tasks. These elements include an interconnection of communicating units, group-level memory, parallel and converging paths, and identifiable early and late processing. To provide justification that this swarm cognition perspective is more than just an extended analogy, we first conduct a series of behavioral tests on an experimentally validated simulation of the nest-site selection process. These tests demonstrate the ability of a swarm (i) to discriminate between site qualities even in the presence of significant individual bee nest-site assessment noise, (ii) to avoid being misled by multiple inferior distractor nest sites and simultaneously focus on the best site, and (iii) to order the percentage of choices for each site according to relative nest-site qualities and thereby avoid negative context-dependent effects on choice performance. Next, it is shown that (i) swarm cognition mechanism parameters have been tuned by natural selection to provide a balance between speed and accuracy of choice, and (ii) the key component of swarm cognition, accurate group memory, is a result of this same balance. Our analysis at multiple levels, from mechanisms and behavioral levels to the adaptation level, serves to solidify connections between neuroscience, sociobiology, and cognitive ecology that we hope will have implications in the study of robust group decision making for other species.