Bumblebees and chimpanzees use collective intelligence – how it works

When exploring the world and gaining new knowledge, people rely not so much on their personal experience as on the experience of other people. Moreover, this begins from early childhood and continues throughout the rest of life. For example, parents tell their children about the dangers of certain actions, teachers teach children at school, adults read instructions on how to use certain household appliances, etc. We could acquire some of this knowledge on our own, but we would spend a lot of time on it. It is generally impossible to obtain other knowledge on your own. The experience and information accumulated by society and transmitted from person to person is usually called collective intelligence. Recently, scientists have discovered that it is not only humans who use collective intelligence. Monkeys and even bumblebees have a similar ability.

Bumblebees and chimpanzees use collective intelligence — how it works. Bumblebees can use collective intelligence to solve complex problems. Photo.

Bumblebees can use collective intelligence to solve complex problems

Bumblebees are able to teach each other

Bumblebees have long been known for their high cognitive abilities. For example, they know how to associate symbols with numbers, love to play with toys, and were even able to learn to play ball. But in the current study, scientists went even further – they taught bumblebees to open a puzzle box.

For the purpose of the experiment, bumblebees were placed on a special area where they smelled a treat, but they could only get it by moving a small red partition plate. But to do this, it was first necessary to move another blue plate. That is, the problem had to be solved in two stages.

Bumblebees are able to teach each other. Puzzle box with treats for bumblebees. Photo.

Puzzle box with treats for bumblebees

The design was tested on three colonies of bumblebees, but not a single insect was able to gain access to the treat. Then the scientists took nine bumblebees and taught them to solve the puzzle themselves. To do this, they divided all the actions into steps, and after each step they gave a treat. As a result, the insects learned to remove obstacles themselves, performing all actions from beginning to end without intermediate treats.

Then the trained bumblebees passed on their knowledge to other bumblebees. As a result, they learned to remove obstacles without the help of people. The results of this experiment were published in the journal Nature.

This work is further confirmation that not only people are capable of using collective intelligence, as previously thought. It should be noted that the shared possession of skills and knowledge, as well as the ability to transfer them, is the main property of culture.

Bumblebees are able to teach each other. Bumblebees learn to solve complex problems from their comrades. Photo.

Bumblebees learn to solve complex problems from their comrades

How chimpanzees use collective intelligence

Another group of scientists conducted an experiment with two groups of common chimpanzees in Zambia. The authors installed a machine that dispensed nuts. Moreover, the delicacy was visible, and the monkey even smelled it. However, in order for the machine to dispense nuts, it was necessary to perform certain actions – open the box, place a wooden ball in a special recess and close the box. Balls for the machine were scattered nearby in large quantities.

Thus, the chimpanzee had to first examine the apparatus, then move away from it, pick up the ball and put it in the box. For three months, while the machine was standing, not a single monkey was able to solve the problem, although attempts were made several times.

How chimpanzees use collective intelligence. Chimpanzees can teach each other. Photo.

Chimpanzees can teach each other

Then scientists took one monkey from each group and taught them to perform the necessary actions to receive nuts. After the trained monkeys were released to the rest of their brothers, many of them also learned to use the machine gun.

It must be said that scientists have previously conducted studies in which they revealed the ability of monkeys and some other animals to learn from each other. However, previously this concerned knowledge that animals could acquire themselves. Therefore, it was not entirely clear whether animals really adopt the experience of others or find a solution themselves. There can be no doubt about the results of the current study, published in the journal Nature Human Behavior.

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However, it's unclear whether animals and insects can use their collective expertise to solve more complex problems. That is, if the task becomes a little more complicated, for example, it will be necessary to perform not two, but three steps of the same type, will the insects be able to solve it using their existing skills and knowledge? If it turns out that something similar happens in chimpanzees or bumblebees, then we can say that they are capable of cultural accumulation of common experience.