Animal Cognition

, Volume 9, Issue 2, pp 141–150 | Cite as

Honeybees (Apis mellifera) holding on to memories: response competition causes retroactive interference effects

  • Ken Cheng
  • Anne E. Wignall
Original Article


Five experiments on honeybees examined how the learning of a second task interferes with what was previously learned. Free flying bees were tested for landmark-based memory in variations on a paradigm of retroactive interference. Bees first learned Task 1, were tested on Task 1 (Test 1), then learned Task 2, and were tested again on Task 1 (Test 2). A 60-min delay (waiting in a box) before Test 2 caused no performance decrements. If the two tasks had conflicting response requirements, (e.g., target right of a green landmark in Task 1 and left of a blue landmark in Task 2), then a strong decrement on Test 2 was found (retroactive interference effect). When response competition was minimised during training or testing, however, the decrement on Test 2 was small or nonexistent. The results implicate response competition as a major contributor to the retroactive interference effect. The honeybee seems to hold on to memories; new memories do not wipe out old ones.


Honeybee Landmark Spatial memory Retroactive interference Response competition 



The work reported here was supported by a research grant from the Australian Research Council to KC (#9403/2133). The research was written up while K. Cheng was a Fellow at the Berlin Institute for Advanced Study, for whose support he is thankful. Thanks are also due to Dagong Zhang, Daniela Strano, Karen Bayly, and Greg Holwell for help with collecting data, to Mark Peterson for help with beehive maintenance, and to Tom Collett and Tom Zentall for helpful comments. Portions of the results reported here were presented at the annual meetings of the Animal Behavior Society, Boise, Idaho, July, 2003, and the Australasian Society for the Study of Animal Behaviour, Canberra, Australia, April, 2003.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for the Integrative Study of Animal Behaviour and Department of PsychologyMacquarie UniversitySydneyAustralia

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