Disciplines/fields: Animal Behaviour, Animal Cognition

Duration: 4 sessions

Course Content

This course will address how group level cognition emerges in insect societies. We will begin by introducing the principles of self-organization as applied to the highly decentralized colonies of ants and bees. These principles include positive and negative feedback, nonlinear interactions, symmetry breaking, and sensitivity to initial conditions. We will then focus on mechanisms of collective decision-making that allow emergent comparison of options at the group level in the absence of any well-informed individuals. We will next consider how cooperation influences rational decision-making at both group and individual levels. Finally we will address quantitative and qualitative differences in cognition between whole societies and the individuals that make them up.


Students will be able to apply essential concepts of self-organization to explain the emergence of group-level cognition in insect societies.


Seeley, T.D. (2010) Honeybee Democracy. Princeton University Press.
Camazine, S., Deneubourg, J.L, Franks, N.R., Sneyd, J., Theraulaz, G., and Bonabeau, E. (2001) Self organization in Biological Systems. Princeton University Press.
Sumpter, D.J.T. (2010) Collective Animal Behaviour. Princeton University Press


Stephen Pratt is an Associate Professor in the School of Life Sciences at Arizona State University. His research focuses on the social organization of ant and bee colonies, with a special focus on mechanistic understanding of highly coordinated group behavior. He also works with engineers to apply the resulting insights to artificial systems such as robotic swarms. He received his PhD from Cornell University and has worked at the University of Bath, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Princeton University.