Selective attention in the honeybee optic lobes precedes behavioral choices

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Attention allows animals to respond selectively to competing stimuli, enabling some stimuli to evoke a behavioral response while others are ignored. How the brain does this remains mysterious, although it is increasingly evident that even animals with the smallest brains display this capacity. For example, insects respond selectively to salient visual stimuli, but it is unknown where such selectivity occurs in the insect brain, or whether neural correlates of attention might predict the visual choices made by an insect. Here, we investigate neural correlates of visual attention in behaving honeybees (Apis mellifera). Using a closed-loop paradigm that allows tethered, walking bees to actively control visual objects in a virtual reality arena, we show that behavioral fixation increases neuronal responses to flickering, frequency-tagged stimuli. Attention-like effects were reduced in the optic lobes during replay of the same visual sequences, when bees were not able to control the visual displays. When bees were presented with competing frequency-tagged visual stimuli, selectivity in the medulla (an optic ganglion) preceded behavioral selection of a stimulus, suggesting that modulation of early visual processing centers precedes eventual behavioral choices made by these insects.


  • Angelique C Paulk
  • Jacqueline A Stacey
  • Thomas WJ Pearson
  • Gavin Taylor
  • Richard JD Moore
  • Mandyam V Srinivasan
  • Bruno Van Swinderen
External organisations
  • University of Queensland
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Biological Sciences
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5006-5011
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Issue number13
Publication statusPublished - 2014
Publication categoryResearch

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