In this TiNs paper, Martin Giurfa presents a review of recent experimental literature related to cognition in insects. Of course, the key issue with experiments in this area is to tread the delicate line between underestimating or anthropomorphising the insects we are studying. Martin suggests that “Focusing on the neural bases of insect higher-order learning is a way to avoid this, because the characterization of neural architectures should be a dispassionate endeavor”. Such a bottom-up philosophy is admirable but evidently not always possible and there are still ongoing issues whenever we have to describe insect behaviour in an experimental setting.
For me, the most interesting part of the paper is Martin’s list of future research directions. It is pleasing to imagine what the next 10 years will bring in terms of our understanding of insect cognition.
Martin Giurfa (2013) Cognition with few neurons: higher-order learning in insects, Trends in Neurosciences.
What better way to start the new year than 2 review articles from the Annual Review of Entomology. Both relate to issues that are integral to the understanding of insect navigation. Perry and Barron review what we know about reward mechanisms in insects. Paulk et al look at our understanding of the visual system of drosophila, something which is going to be key for insect navigation studies as we gradually learn more about what drosphila are capable of with regard to navigation.
Angelique Paulk, S. Sean Millard, and Bruno van Swinderen (2013) Vision in Drosophila: Seeing the World Through a Models Eyes. Ann Rev Entomol, 58.
Clint J. Perry and Andrew B. Barron (2013) Neural Mechanisms of Reward in Insects. Ann Rev Entomol, 58.
On this forum we are all aware of the value of the honeybee as a model system for research into learning and memory. Occasionally, a review article comes along that reminds us of this and updates the case with recent research. This paper from Randolf Menzel is one such paper but is particularly useful because it highlights the specific methods and technologies that will ensure the honeybee will maintain its position as a effective model animal.
Randolf Menzel (2012) The honeybee as a model for understanding the basis of cognition. Nature Reviews Neuroscience 13, 758-768 (November 2012) | doi:10.1038/nrn3357
Here is a fun, short-review paper from Martin Giurfa that highlights how insect learning also extends to the social domain. The social context naturally suggests sophisticated cognition. However, Giurfa cautions us that we need to focus on mechanistic explanations of these behaviours.
Giurfa M (2012) Social learning in insects: a higher-order capacity? Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience 57
This is another paper taken from the Animal Minds Phil Trans special issue. The article builds on ideas in the paper by Doring and Chittka [http://wp.me/pFSBM-7h] and discusses in general terms the problems of comparing cognitive abilities between species. The paper gives a very readable account of why we should fear top-down approaches and be wary of gross comparisons of neuroanatomy, but isn’t all negative. There are positive promotions of bottom-up evolutionary explanations as well as minimal cognitivve modelling and data-driven approaches, all of which may prove fruitful
Lars Chittka, Stephen J. Rossiter, Peter Skorupski, and Chrisantha Fernando (2012) What is comparable in comparative cognition? Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 367 2677-2685; doi:10.1098/rstb.2012.0215
Here is a paper from the Phil Trans special issue mentioned below. The review paper from Barbara Webb considers the prospects for cognition in insects. Abstract: “A traditional view of cognition is that it involves an internal process that represents, tracks or predicts an external process. This is not a general characteristic of all complex neural processing or feedback control, but rather implies specific forms of processing giving rise to specific behavioural capabilities. In this paper, I will review the evidence for such capabilities in insect navigation and learning. Do insects know where they are, or do they only know what to do? Do they learn what stimuli mean, or do they only learn how to behave?”
Barbara Webb (2012) Cognition in insects Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B (2012) 367, 2715–2722
The most recent volume of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society reports on a discussion meeting with an Animal Minds theme. There may be a few papers of interest, so here are the listings:
‘Animal minds: from computation to evolution’ organized and edited by Uri Grodzinski, Nicola S. Clayton and Alex Thornton
Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B October 5, 2012 vol 367
Alex Thornton, Nicola S. Clayton, and Uri Grodzinski
Introduction: Animal minds: from computation to evolution
Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B October 5, 2012 vol 367
Lars Chittka, Stephen J. Rossiter, Peter Skorupski, and Chrisantha Fernando
Review article: What is comparable in comparative cognition?
Arnon Lotem and Joseph Y. Halpern
Research article: Coevolution of learning and data-acquisition mechanisms: a model for cognitive evolution
Review article: Simple minds: a qualified defence of associative learning
Research article: The brain’s connective core and its role in animal cognition
Review article: Cognition in insects
Jackie Chappell and Nick Hawes
Review article: Biological and artificial cognition: what can we learn about mechanisms by modelling physical cognition problems using artificial intelligence planning techniques?
Review article: Associative learning and animal cognition
Amanda Seed, Eleanor Seddon, Bláthnaid Greene, and Josep Call
Research article: Chimpanzee ‘folk physics’: bringing failures into focus
Esther Herrmann and Josep Call
Research article: Are there geniuses among the apes?
Andrew Sih and Marco Del Giudice
Review article: Linking behavioural syndromes and cognition: a behavioural ecology perspective
Alex Thornton and Dieter Lukas
Review article: Individual variation in cognitive performance: developmental and evolutionary perspectives
Elizabeth S. Spelke and Sang Ah Lee
Research article: Core systems of geometry in animal minds
Sara J. Shettleworth
Review article: Modularity, comparative cognition and human uniqueness