Average group behavior does not represent individual behavior in classical conditioning of the honeybee.
Pamir E., Chakroborty NK., Stollhoff N., Gehring KB., Antemann V., Morgenstern L., Felsenberg J., Eisenhardt D., Menzel R., Nawrot MP.
Conditioned behavior as observed during classical conditioning in a group of identically treated animals provides insights into the physiological process of learning and memory formation. However, several studies in vertebrates found a remarkable difference between the group-average behavioral performance and the behavioral characteristics of individual animals. Here, we analyzed a large number of data (1640 animals) on olfactory conditioning in the honeybee (Apis mellifera). The data acquired during absolute and differential classical conditioning differed with respect to the number of conditioning trials, the conditioned odors, the intertrial intervals, and the time of retention tests. We further investigated data in which animals were tested for spontaneous recovery from extinction. In all data sets we found that the gradually increasing group-average learning curve did not adequately represent the behavior of individual animals. Individual behavior was characterized by a rapid and stable acquisition of the conditioned response (CR), as well as by a rapid and stable cessation of the CR following unrewarded stimuli. In addition, we present and evaluate different model hypotheses on how honeybees form associations during classical conditioning by implementing a gradual learning process on the one hand and an all-or-none learning process on the other hand. In summary, our findings advise that individual behavior should be recognized as a meaningful predictor for the internal state of a honeybee--irrespective of the group-average behavioral performance.