PLoS One. 2016 Sep 14;11(9):e0162347. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0162347.

Operant Conditioning in Honey Bees (Apis mellifera L.): The Cap Pushing Response.

Abramson CI1, Dinges CW1, Wells H2.
1 Laboratory of Comparative Psychology and Behavioral Biology, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, Oklahoma, United States of America.
2 Department of Biology, University of Tulsa, Tulsa, Oklahoma, United States of America.



The honey bee has been an important model organism for studying learning and memory. More recently, the honey bee has become a valuable model to understand perception and cognition. However, the techniques used to explore psychological phenomena in honey bees have been limited to only a few primary methodologies such as the proboscis extension reflex, sting extension reflex, and free flying target discrimination-tasks. Methods to explore operant conditioning in bees and other invertebrates are not as varied as with vertebrates. This may be due to the availability of a suitable response requirement. In this manuscript we offer a new method to explore operant conditioning in honey bees: the cap pushing response (CPR). We used the CPR to test for difference in learning curves between novel auto-shaping and more traditional explicit-shaping. The CPR protocol requires bees to exhibit a novel behavior by pushing a cap to uncover a food source. Using the CPR protocol we tested the effects of both explicit-shaping and auto-shaping techniques on operant conditioning. The goodness of fit and lack of fit of these data to the Rescorla-Wagner learning-curve model, widely used in classical conditioning studies, was tested. The model fit well to both control and explicit-shaping results, but only for a limited number of trials. Learning ceased rather than continuing to asymptotically approach the physiological most accurate possible. Rate of learning differed between shaped and control bee treatments. Learning rate was about 3 times faster for shaped bees, but for all measures of proficiency control and shaped bees reached the same level. Auto-shaped bees showed one-trial learning rather than the asymptotic approach to a maximal efficiency. However, in terms of return-time, the auto-shaped bees‘ learning did not carry over to the covered-well test treatments.