Animal Cognition

, Volume 20, Issue 2, pp 233–241 | Cite as

The glass is not yet half empty: agitation but not Varroa treatment causes cognitive bias in honey bees

  • Helge Schlüns
  • Helena Welling
  • Julian René Federici
  • Lars Lewejohann
Original Paper


Honey bees (Apis mellifera) are prone to judge an ambiguous stimulus negatively if they had been agitated through shaking which simulates a predator attack. Such a cognitive bias has been suggested to reflect an internal emotional state analogous to humans who judge more pessimistically when they do not feel well. In order to test cognitive bias experimentally, an animal is conditioned to respond to two different stimuli, where one is punished while the other is rewarded. Subsequently a third, ambiguous stimulus is presented and it is measured whether the subject responds as if it expects a reward or a punishment. Generally, it is assumed that negative experiences lower future expectations, rendering the animals more pessimistic. Here we tested whether a most likely negatively experienced formic acid treatment against the parasitic mite Varroa destructor also affects future expectations of honey bees. We applied an olfactory learning paradigm (i.e., conditioned proboscis extension response) using two odorants and blends of these odorants as the ambiguous stimuli. Unlike agitating honey bees, exposure to formic acid did not significantly change the response to the ambiguous stimuli in comparison with untreated bees. Overall evidence suggests that the commonest treatment against one of the most harmful bee pests has no detrimental effects on cognitive bias in honey bees.


Proboscis extension reflex Olfactory conditioning Formic acid Appetitive learning Aversive learning Invertebrate emotion 



We thank Ricarda Scheiner for advice on olfactory learning procedures in the honey bee and Ivana Moschella for laboratory assistance and preliminary experiments. The work was supported by the “Incentive Award of the Faculty of Biology/Chemistry” of the University of Osnabrueck to HS.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that there is no conflict of interest with any of the funding agencies of the research reported herein.

Ethical statement

All applicable international, national, and/or institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Behavioral BiologyUniversity of OsnabrueckOsnabrückGermany

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