A new study has revealed that, just like humans, bumblebees form false memories. These false memories are created by the brain by combining details of past memories or imagines thoughts.
Researchers at the Queen Mary University of London have discovered for the first time ever that insect, just like humans, can create false memories.
Kathryn Hung and Lars Chittka, co-authors of the study that was published in the journal Current Biology, used a classic Pavlovian experiment that showed bumblebees combine details of past memories to create new, but false, ones.
The researchers who showed bumblebees form false memories buzzed their subjects so that they expect a reward when they visited two artificial flowers (one yellow and the other with black and white rings). The order of the flowers did not matter, as long as the bumblebees visited them both. Later in their testing, the scientists presented a choice of a new type of flower, plus one of the original flower types. The new one was a combination of the first two with yellow and white rings.
At first, the bumblebees selected the original flower, but three days after the training they became confused and started to choose the yellow and white rings flower up to 50% of the time. They thought that the pattern would give them their reward, even if they had not seen it before. The researchers concluded that the bumblebees combined their past memories to create a new and false memory.
The researchers are hoping that this new study will lead to a biological understanding of false memories in humans and animals alike. Chittka claims that false memories aren’t a bug in the system, but a side effect of a having a complex brain that is trying hard to prepare itself for new experiences and learning the big picture.
Bees might, on occasion, form merged memories of flower patterns visited in the past. Should a bee unexpectedly encounter real flowers that match these false memories, they might experience a kind of deja-vu and visit these flowers expecting a rich reward.
Dr. Chittka suspects that the phenomenon of false memory creation may be very widespread in the animal kingdom.
It is not the first time scientists have discovered that false memories exist in other species .In 2013, scientists from MIT have created false memories of trauma in mice and in 2014, the same institution manipulated the brain of mine to turn painful memories into pleasant memories.
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