Associative learning in insects has been studied extensively by a multitude of classical conditioning protocols. However, so far little emphasis has been put on the dynamics of learning in individuals. The honeybee is a well-established animal model for learning and memory. We here studied associative learning as expressed in individual behavior based on a large collection of data on olfactory classical conditioning (25 datasets, 3298 animals). We show that the group-averaged learning curve and memory retention score confound three attributes of individual learning: the ability or inability to learn a given task, the generally fast acquisition of a conditioned response (CR) in learners, and the high stability of the CR during consecutive training and memory retention trials. We reassessed the prevailing view that more training results in better memory performance and found that 24 h memory retention can be indistinguishable after single-trial and multiple-trial conditioning in individuals. We explain how inter-individual differences in learning can be accommodated within the Rescorla-Wagner theory of associative learning. In both data-analysis and modeling we demonstrate how the conflict between population-level and single-animal perspectives on learning and memory can be disentangled.
Keywords: Apis mellifera; Rescorla–Wagner model; classical conditioning; learning curve; proboscis extension response (PER); single-trial learning; sucrose responsiveness; sucrose sensitivity.