May PsychNotes • Insect Intellect

May 1, 2016 by Shawn Smith

May PsychNotesThe Smithsonian estimates there are around 900,000 species of insects and 10,000,000,000,000,000,000 of them buzzing and crawling around at any given moment. Look out! There’s one behind you! They’re everywhere, and they have their own psychology. Or at least their own way of processing information.

1. Are Insects Conscious?
A new study in PNAS suggests insects are aware and self-centered. “Their experience of the world is not as rich or as detailed as our experience… but it still feels like something to be a bee.” From another report: “They don’t pay attention to all sensory input equally… The insect selectively pays attention to what is most relevant to it at the moment, hence it is egocentric.” As one bug said to the other, don’t be narcissis-tick (rimshot).

2. Do Ants Think?
Ants appear to be the ultimate hive-minded automatons, but they think and they learn—though not like us. When we navigate the world we combine different information like distance, scenery and time into one coherent perception. Ants appear to possess “distinct modules dedicated to different navigational tasks. These combine to allow navigation.”

3. Do Insects Feel Pain?
Animals need pain to learn avoidance, so insects should feel pain, right? Maybe, but bugs also process pain differently than we do. Insect nervous systems detect noxious stimuli, which is one component of pain. But a second component of pain is emotion, and there’s no evidence of insect emotion. Or is there?

4. Do Bugs Have Emotions?
If, as this author suggests, emotion is a neural reaction to something that “deviates from neutrality or optimum balance,” and if that reaction is meant to alter behavior to correct discomfort, then one can reasonably argue that insects display emotional responses. That raises some interesting ethical questions, though I’ll keep swatting flies—especially since their processing speed gives them an unfair advantage (video).

5. How Ant Colonies Work
“In an ant colony, there’s no one in charge,” says Deborah Gordon. So how is their collective behavior so organized and goal directed? Through countless, tiny interactions that allow them to collectively calculate operating costs, resource gathering, recruitment, and other high-level organizational tasks. Much like the postal service, no individual understands how the whole system works, and different colonies approach the same problem different ways, which leads to differing rates of success. Their interactional behavior offers lessons about managing complex systems like the Internet. (Video)

Book notes: A lot of people have asked how Is He Worth It? is doing. It’s too early to know, but the book appears to be doing just fine. However, it is in need of more honest Amazon reviews if you’d like to help spread the word.

And speaking of Amazon, you can support ironshrink.com by clicking through the Amazon search box on the right side of the page. You might even bookmark it. You know, for when you order your bug spray and beekeeper’s hat.

I hope you have a grand month. As this guy would say, see you in June!

June bug