Self-Motivation
David Goggins
Former Navy Seal
Career Development
Bryan Cranston
Actor
Critical Thinking
Liv Boeree
International Poker Champion
Emotional Intelligence
Amaryllis Fox
Former CIA Clandestine Operative
Management
Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
Learn
from the world's big
thinkers
Start Learning

Study: Honeybees one of few animals able to understand the concept of ‘zero’

Scientists in Australia have demonstrated that honeybees can be trained to understand the concept of zero, something which took humans millennia to develop.

Pixabay


Honeybees have a very simple understanding of the concept of zero, new research suggests.

A study published in Science outlines how researchers in Australia taught bees to count symbols, and then tested whether they understood that no symbols meant fewer than one or several symbols.

First, they had to train the bees to count. To do so, Scarlett Howard of RMIT University in Melbourne and her colleagues placed sugary prizes on cards they tacked to a wall. Each card had symbols on it, and the prize was always on the card with fewer symbols.

They let the bees loose.

The bees eventually learned to associate the prize with cards that had fewer symbols, and most would fly to the sugar water immediately. Then the researchers put the prize on cards with zero symbols.

The bees chose the blank card about 65 percent of the time, a statistically significant number that suggests they have a basic understanding of the concept of zero—putting them in a small group of animals like primates, dolphins, and parrots.

What’s more, it was easier for the bees to differentiate between blank cards and ones with many symbols.


Science

"When we showed them zero versus six, they did that at a much higher level than zero versus one," Howard told NPR. "So what tells us is that they consider zero as an actual quantity along the number line. They're actually better at doing zero versus six because those two numbers are further apart."

It might seem like an easy to task to determine that nothing is less than one, but research suggests it’s not quite obvious, even for human children.

"It's easy for them to count 'one, two, three, four,' but zero, it's nothing, it's not something to count. So it's not the same category," Aurore Avargues-Weber, a CNRS researcher with the University of Toulouse, told NPR.

The concept of zero is a fairly recent discovery of mankind.

"What is nothing?" study co-author Adrian Dyer asked Vox. “[It’s a question that seems] a bit simple to us. But the actual ability to do it took a long time to arrive in human culture. And so it’s not straightforward, so understanding how a brain [a bee brain, a human brain, etc.] does it is exciting."

The brain of a honeybee is vastly simpler than that of a human. To put it in perspective, your brain has about 86 billion neurons while a bee has under 1 million. So, the fact that bees can—on some level—grasp the concept of zero suggests other animals might be able to do the same. At the very least, it shows that a bee’s modest brain is capable of some surprising feats.

“Their brains are probably processing information in a very clever [i.e., efficient] way” Dyer said.

LIVE EVENT | Radical innovation: Unlocking the future of human invention

Innovation in manufacturing has crawled since the 1950s. That's about to speed up.

Big Think LIVE

Add event to calendar

AppleGoogleOffice 365OutlookOutlook.comYahoo


Keep reading Show less

NASA's idea for making food from thin air just became a reality — it could feed billions

Here's why you might eat greenhouse gases in the future.

Jordane Mathieu on Unsplash
Technology & Innovation
  • The company's protein powder, "Solein," is similar in form and taste to wheat flour.
  • Based on a concept developed by NASA, the product has wide potential as a carbon-neutral source of protein.
  • The man-made "meat" industry just got even more interesting.
Keep reading Show less

Navy SEALs: How to build a warrior mindset

SEAL training is the ultimate test of both mental and physical strength.

Videos
  • The fact that U.S. Navy SEALs endure very rigorous training before entering the field is common knowledge, but just what happens at those facilities is less often discussed. In this video, former SEALs Brent Gleeson, David Goggins, and Eric Greitens (as well as authors Jesse Itzler and Jamie Wheal) talk about how the 18-month program is designed to build elite, disciplined operatives with immense mental toughness and resilience.
  • Wheal dives into the cutting-edge technology and science that the navy uses to prepare these individuals. Itzler shares his experience meeting and briefly living with Goggins (who was also an Army Ranger) and the things he learned about pushing past perceived limits.
  • Goggins dives into why you should leave your comfort zone, introduces the 40 percent rule, and explains why the biggest battle we all face is the one in our own minds. "Usually whatever's in front of you isn't as big as you make it out to be," says the SEAL turned motivational speaker. "We start to make these very small things enormous because we allow our minds to take control and go away from us. We have to regain control of our mind."
Keep reading Show less

How COVID-19 will change the way we design our homes

Pandemic-inspired housing innovation will collide with techno-acceleration.

Maja Hitij/Getty Images
Coronavirus
COVID-19 is confounding planning for basic human needs, including shelter.
Keep reading Show less
Scroll down to load more…
Quantcast