Anna Dornhaus

Anna Dornhaus, Ph.D.
Wednesday May 1, 2019, 2:30–3:30, The Arizona Senior Academy Building

Why is science important? What can scientific study of social insects and other animals tell us about how our mind works?  The answers may be surprising and difficult to accept. At its core, science is a method of answering questions that enables us to find out if we are wrong about our preconceptions.  Decades of research in psychology, biology, and artificial intelligence demonstrate that our mind is not as centralized or rational as we believe. Dr. Dornhaus’ starting point is that almost all the qualitative aspects of intelligence we apply to ourselves can be found in animals.

She uses examples from research on dogs to reveal ways we misinterpret how minds work.  She also points to research examining the bee’s ability to problem-solve and learn. Then she turns to how humans process information and evidence for the introspective mistakes we make when interpreting our own minds as well as those of others.  Her research suggests that minds are based more on machine-learning-like processes than what we think of as “rationality.”  She concludes that the scientific method is the only way to break through our mind’s powerful inclination to bend evidence to fit with our previous experience.

Prof. Anna Dornhaus is a behavioral ecologist studying organizational strategies in social insects (bees and ants), investigating mechanisms of coordination in foraging, collective decision-making, task allocation, and division of labor. Her interests include determining the impact of different types of evidence and the role of modeling in scientific discovery.  She received her Ph.D. in 2002 at the University of Würzburg, Germany, then worked as a postdoc at the University of Bristol, UK. She joined the U.A. Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology in 2005.  She has over 100 peer-reviewed publications and has mentored over 100 undergraduate students on research projects.

Written by Maria Dobozy, Academy Village Volunteer


May 1: “Can Intelligence be Measured?”