Understanding the origins and maintenance of cognitive variation in animal populations is central to the study of the evolution of cognition. However, the brain is itself a complex, hierarchical network of heterogeneous components, from diverse cell types to diverse neuropils, each of which may be of limited use to study in isolation or prohibitively challenging to manipulate in situ. Consequently, highly tractable alternative model systems may be valuable tools. Eusocial-insect colonies display emergent cognitive-like properties from relatively simple social interactions between diverse subunits that can be observed and manipulated while operating collectively. Here, we review the individual-scale mechanisms that cause group-level variation in how colonies solve problems analogous to cognitive challenges faced by brains, like decision-making, attention, and search.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)836-848
Number of pages13
JournalTrends in Cognitive Sciences
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2022


  • alternative model systems
  • collective behavior
  • collective cognition
  • eusocial insects
  • networks
  • variation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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