Differences in performance on a reversal learning test and division of labor in honey bee colonies

Y. Ben-Shahar, C. K. Thompson, S. M. Hartz, B. H. Smith, G. E. Robinson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We studied the association between honey bee (Apis mellifera) division of labor and performance on an olfactory reversal-learning test. Manipulations of colony age structure and flight experience were used to test whether differences in performance are associated with age, current behavioral state, or flight experience. Nurse bees showed significantly faster rates of extinction to a learned odor than did foragers. This difference was associated primarily with differences in behavioral state, rather than age; it was seen when comparing nurses and foragers from typical colonies and normal-age nurses and precocious foragers from single-cohort colonies. Differences in extinction rate were not related to differences in flight experience; there was no difference between foragers and foraging-age bees denied flight experience. These results suggest that changes in learning and memory occur in association with division of labor. We speculate on the possible functional significance of the difference in extinction rate between nurses and foragers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)119-125
Number of pages7
JournalAnimal cognition
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2000


  • Associative learning
  • Proboscis extension reflex
  • Social insects

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology


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