Bees Have Feelings and Can Experience Optimism

Study finds bees experience a variety of “emotional” states given different stimuli

Bees seem to become “happy” and “optimistic” after drinking nectar, and “pessimistic” after an attack, sparking a debate among scientists as to whether they have a consciousness.

Researchers from the Queen Mary University of London observed bees appeared to be in an “positive emotional state” after drinking a droplet of sugar water, while bees who experienced a simulated attack appeared to be in a “negative emotional state.”

Simulated spider attack

The study was published in the journal Science.

In the experiments, the bees who received treats seemed more “motivated” and “optimistic” about finding more treats than those who had received no treats or scares, the researchers said.

In one experiment, a group of bees was taught to find sugar water behind a blue door, and plain water behind a green door, while another group of bees found only plain water behind both doors.

Later, when a third, bluish-green door was introduced, the bees who’d  found sugar water behind the blue door, flew straight through the bluish-green hole, seemingly more anxious to receive another reward.

Meanwhile the bees who hadn’t found sugar water behind either the blue or green doors, seemed more indifferent about trying out the bluish-green door. Check out the videos of these experiments in Popular Science magazine.

The scientists say the bees’ behavior mirrors the way happy people make more optimistic predictions about the outcome of situations. The sugar-water bees were more optimistic that there would be food in the mystery container.

In a second experiment two groups of bees were exposed to a simulated spider attack. Bees that had consumed the sugar solution before the “attack” took less time to resume foraging, suggesting they were less troubled and more quickly able to recover from the “trauma.”

“Sweet food can improve negative moods in human adults and reduce crying of newborns in response to negative events,” biologist and study co-author Luigi Baciadonna told The Telegraph. “Our results suggest that similar cognitive responses are occurring in bees.”

“Whether ‘emotion-like’ states in insects are accompanied by emotional feelings remains unanswered, but the possibility of insect consciousness is now the topic of exciting new theories and vigorous debate,” said Bristol University biology professor Michael Mendl.

“The finding that bees exhibit not just surprising levels of intelligence, but also emotion-like states, indicates that we should respect their needs when testing them in experiments, and do more for their conservation,” added Queen Mary University of London biology professor Lars Chittka, senior author of the study.