Thinking insects

Science Daily peeks into the mind of insects with new research that shows that fruit flies think before they act:

In experiments asking fruit flies to distinguish between ever closer concentrations of an odor, the researchers found that the flies don’t act instinctively or impulsively. Instead they appear to accumulate information before committing to a choice.

Gathering information before making a decision has been considered a sign of higher intelligence, like that shown by primates and humans.

‘Freedom of action from automatic impulses is considered a hallmark of cognition or intelligence,’ says Professor Gero Miesenböck, in whose laboratory the new research was performed. ‘What our findings show is that fruit flies have a surprising mental capacity that has previously been unrecognised.’

The researchers observed Drosophila fruit flies make a choice between two concentrations of an odor presented to them from opposite ends of a narrow chamber, having been trained to avoid one concentration.

When the odor concentrations were very different and easy to tell apart, the flies made quick decisions and almost always moved to the correct end of the chamber.

When the odor concentrations were very close and difficult to distinguish, the flies took much longer to make a decision, and they made more mistakes.

The researchers found that mathematical models developed to describe the mechanisms of decision making in humans and primates also matched the behaviour of the fruit flies.

So they have inner lives of some kind, insects do.

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