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Bees Distinguish Works of Art

By Stephen Luntz

Bees can recognise the differences between paintings and show some signs of a capacity to generalise by recognising painting styles.

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Bees can recognise the differences between paintings and show some signs of a capacity to generalise by recognising painting styles.

Dr Judith Reinhard of the Queensland Brain Institute put bees into a chamber with two exit holes, each with a print of a painting above – one by Picasso and one by Monet. Behind one exit hole was a tray of sugar solution while the other led only to an empty space. The paintings were matched for dominant colours and lightness, and painting pairs were regularly swapped.

For one set of 25 bees the reward was always below the Monet, while for a similar-sized group the Picasso signalled the way to food, although the painting locations were swapped back and forth. The experiment was carefully controlled to avoid unwanted cues. Only one bee was allowed in the chamber at a time, and the container was changed frequently to remove any effects of pheromones from feeding bees.

The bees became adept at recognising individual paintings within the training pair, and could even manage this with greyscale versions. Reinhard reported in the Journal of Comparative Physiology A: “Honeybees learned to simultaneously discriminate between five different Monet and Picasso paintings, and did not rely on luminance, colour or spatial frequency information”.

The experiment replicates one done with pigeons, but Reinhard says she is not aware of...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.