Individual learning phenotypes drive collective behavior

Chelsea N. Cook, Natalie J. Lemanski, Thiago Mosqueiro, Cahit Ozturk, Jürgen Gadau, Noa Pinter-Wollman, Brian H. Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Individual differences in learning can influence how animals respond to and communicate about their environment, which may nonlinearly shape how a social group accomplishes a collective task. There are few empirical examples of how differences in collective dynamics emerge from variation among individuals in cognition. Here, we use a naturally variable and heritable learning behavior called latent inhibition (LI) to show that interactions among individuals that differ in this cognitive ability drive collective foraging behavior in honey bee colonies. We artificially selected two distinct phenotypes: high-LI bees that ignore previously familiar stimuli in favor of novel ones and low-LI bees that learn familiar and novel stimuli equally well. We then provided colonies differentially composed of different ratios of these phenotypes with a choice between familiar and novel feeders. Colonies of predominantly high-LI individuals preferred to visit familiar food locations, while low-LI colonies visited novel and familiar food locations equally. Interestingly, in colonies of mixed learning phenotypes, the low-LI individuals showed a preference to visiting familiar feeders, which contrasts with their behavior when in a uniform low-LI group. We show that the shift in feeder preference of low-LI bees is driven by foragers of the high-LI phenotype dancing more intensely and attracting more followers. Our results reveal that cognitive abilities of individuals and their social interactions, which we argue relate to differences in attention, drive emergent collective outcomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)17949-17956
Number of pages8
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number30
StatePublished - Jul 28 2020


  • Cognition
  • Collective behavior
  • Honey bee
  • Latent inhibition
  • Learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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