Symmetry perception in an insect

Abstract

SYMMETRICAL visual patterns have a salient status in human perception, as evinced by their prevalent occurrence in art1, and also in animal perception, where they may be an indicator of phenotypic and genotypic quality2–4. Symmetry perception has been demonstrated in humans5–8, birds9–11, dolphins12 and apes13. Here we show that bees trained to discriminate bilaterally symmetrical from non-symmetrical patterns learn the task and transfer it appropriately to novel stimuli, thus demonstrating a capacity to detect and generalize symmetry or asymmetry. We conclude that bees, and possibly flower-visiting insects in general, can acquire a generalized preference towards symmetrical or, alternatively, asymmetrical patterns depending on experience, and that symmetry detection is preformed or can be learned as a perceptual category by insects, because it can be extracted as an independent visual pattern feature. Bees show a predisposition for learning and generalizing symmetry because, if trained to it, they choose it more frequently, come closer to and hover longer in front of the novel symmetrical stimuli than the bees trained for asymmetry do for the novel asymmetrical stimuli. Thus, even organisms with comparatively small nervous systems can generalize about symmetry, and favour symmetrical over asymmetrical patterns.

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Giurfa, M., Eichmann, B. & Menzel, R. Symmetry perception in an insect. Nature 382, 458–461 (1996). https://doi.org/10.1038/382458a0

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