Dr Reinhard and her team investigated whether this capacity extended to complex images that humans distinguish on the basis of artistic style, including impressionist paintings by Monet and cubist paintings by Picasso. “We were able to show that honeybees learned to simultaneously discriminate between five different Monet and Picasso paintings, and that they did not rely on luminance, colour, or spatial frequency information,” she said.
When presented with novel paintings of the same style, the bees demonstrated an ability to generalise, suggesting they could differentiate Monet from Picasso by extracting and learning the characteristic visual information inherent in each style.
“Our study suggests that discrimination of artistic styles is not a higher cognitive function that is unique to humans, but simply due to the capacity of animals – from insects to humans – to extract and categorise the visual characteristics of complex images,” Dr Reinhard said.
The study has been published in the Journal of Comparative Physiology A.