Physically stressed bees expect less reward in an active choice judgement bias test

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Emotion-like states in animals are commonly assessed using judgment bias tests, which measure responses to ambiguous information. A few studies have recently used these tests to argue for the presence of emotion-like states in insects. However, the results from most of these studies could have other explanations, including changes in motivation and attention. To control for these explanations, we therefore developed a novel judgment bias test, requiring bumblebees to make an active choice indicating their interpretation of ambiguous stimuli. Bumblebees were trained to associate high or low rewards, delivered in two different reward chambers, with distinct colors. Two groups of bees were then physically stressed by shaking or trapping, while the third group served as a control. We subsequently presented the bees with ambiguous colors between the two learnt colors and noted which reward chamber they chose. When presented with ambiguous colors, stressed bees were less likely than control bees to enter the reward chamber previously associated with high reward. We modelled bee behavior using signal detection and drift diffusion models and showed that control bees and stressed bees were, respectively, more likely to respond optimistically and pessimistically to ambiguous cues. The signal detection model further showed that the behavior of stressed bees was explained by a reduction in their prior expectation of high rewards. Our findings thus provide strong evidence for emotion-like states in bees and suggest that their stress-induced pessimistic behavior is explained by a reduced expectation of higher rewards.

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