Home > Papers from 2017 > It ain’t what you do its the way that you do it.

It ain’t what you do its the way that you do it.

Nobody would argue with the statement that insects have rich and interesting behaviour repertoires that require (presumably) non-trivial neural circuitry. However, how insects fit into the field of comparative cognition, where we look at cognitive processes across animals as a function of their ecology and phylogeny, is unclear. One approach is to demonstrate the similarity of insect behaviours (that seemingly require cognition) with behaviours of vertebrates (that are assumed to be cognitive). This top-down approach can often lead to a game of semantics. The alternative is a bottom-up approach, focussing on the mechanisms needed for a particular paper.
In this review, Perry et al., take a series of examples and certainly demonstrate the interesting richness of insect behaviour, whilst showing an understanding of how this field can progress. For example, here is a quote from the Discussion section of their paper: “While it is tempting to explore ever more human-like types of cognitive operations in insects and other animals, the field of comparative cognition needs to move on to discover the neural underpinnings of cognition. The same cognitive capacity might be mediated by entirely different neural circuitries in different species, with a many-to-one mapping between behavioural routines, computations and their neural implementations. In fact, before we can understand a cognitive operation as a circuit function we should be wary of rating them as ‘higher’ or ‘lower’ forms of cognition.”
I personally feel like we are getting close to such an understanding of insect navigation. Especially, with interesting behavioural work on ants and new neurobiological findings from flies and other insects.
Perry, C. J., Barron, A. B., & Chittka, L. (2017). The frontiers of insect cognition. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences16, 111-118.
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Categories: Papers from 2017
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