Honeybee brains can sort art by style

U. QUEENSLAND (AUS) — Monet or Picasso? Honeybees, which have a highly developed capacity for processing complex visual information, may be able to distinguish between artistic styles, a new study shows.

Extending beyond simple colors, shapes, and patterns, the bees’ visual learning and discrimination abilities could include distinguishing landscape scenes, types of flowers, and even human faces.

“This suggests that in spite of their small brain, honeybees have a highly developed capacity for processing complex visual information, comparable in many respects to vertebrates,” says Judith Reinhard, researcher at the Queensland Brain Institute at the University of Queensland.


As reported in the Journal of Comparative Physiology A, Reinhard and colleagues investigated whether this capacity extended to complex images that humans distinguish on the basis of artistic style, including Impressionist paintings by Monet and Cubist paintings by Picasso.

“We were able to show that honeybees learned to simultaneously discriminate between five different Monet and Picasso paintings, and that they did not rely on luminance, color, or spatial frequency information,” she says.

When presented with novel paintings of the same style, the bees demonstrated an ability to generalize, suggesting they could differentiate Monet from Picasso by extracting and learning the characteristic visual information inherent in each style.

“Our study suggests that discrimination of artistic styles is not a higher cognitive function that is unique to humans, but simply due to the capacity of animals—from insects to humans—to extract and categorize the visual characteristics of complex images.”

Researchers from the Federal University of Sao Carlos in Brazil contributed to the study.

Source: University of Queensland