Natural selection should lead animals to use social cues (SC) when they are useful, and disregard them when they are not. Theoretical investigation predicts that individuals should thus employ social learning ‘strategies’, but how might such context specificity be achieved on a proximate level? Operant conditioning, whereby the use of SC is reinforced through rewarding results, provides a potential mechanism. We investigate the role of reinforcement in joining behaviour in bumble-bees, Bombus terrestris. When bees visit unfamiliar flower species, they prefer to probe inflorescences where others are also foraging, and here we show that such behaviour is promoted through experience when conspecific presence reliably predicts reward. Our findings highlight a straightforward, but rarely discussed, mechanism by which animals can be selective about when to use SC.
Keywords: social cues, social information, bee cognition