Insects master abstract concepts


image of a bee performing a task
“An insect’s brain is capable of constructing and handling abstract concepts. It can even use two different concepts simultaneously in order to make a decision when faced with a new situation….”

“…While it was previously thought that only humans and some primates were capable of such sophisticated cognitive analysis, these findings demonstrate that the absence of language and a tiny neural architecture do not hinder this ability. The team’s work, published in the journal PNAS, calls into question many theories in fields such as animal cognition, human psychology, neurosciences and artificial intelligence.”

“The results of this study call into question the idea that mammalian brains (including our own), with their larger size, are necessary for conceptual knowledge. They also demonstrate that the formation of concepts is possible in the absence of language. From a philosophical point of view, it fuels the debate surrounding what is specific to mankind. Martin Giurfa’s team is now working on the identification of the neuronal networks responsible for this conceptualization.”

Source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, online 19 April 2012

Simultaneous mastering of two abstract concepts by the miniature brain of bees PNAS 2012 ; published ahead of print April 19, 2012, doi:10.1073/pnas.1202576109


“The formation of concepts is possible in the absence of language”. The insect must be able to “read” the concept. Language is not necessary but communication is essential.


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