Home > Papers from 2013 > Meta-cognition?

Meta-cognition?

It is well understood that more efficient decision making can be achieved if an agent holds estimates of uncertainty alongside the primary-information used to make a decision. Incorporating uncertainty into decision making would seem to be a sensible thing for insects to do, however there is little evidence to point to this. Perry and Barron address this issue by looking at the choices of bees in an opt-out paradigm. In this style of  experiment, bees are rewarded for correct choices and punished for incorrect choices. Therefore, when the decision is difficult, an opportunity to opt-out may be adaptive. This paper reports that individual bees do indeed take the opt-out option in trials when a choice is difficult, thus suggesting that they are capable of monitoring uncertainty.

The exact mechanisms which lead to this behaviour are unclear. The authors discuss that it is hard to “[determine] whether simple invertebrates monitor uncertainty in decision making—or simply appear to do so”. This dichotomy seems to be questioning whether bees are using a cognitive strategy or not – which is of course an interesting question. But in some situations, “simply appearing to do something” is just the same as “doing something”. Understanding how apparent meta-cognition might emerge from the implementation of associative sensori-motor learning would be a valuable outcome and perhaps highlight the value of “bottom-up”  approaches to animal cognition.

Perry, C. J., & Barron, A. B. (2013). Honey bees selectively avoid difficult choices. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 110(47), 19155-19159.

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