Overview |  Research directions | Members | Publications | Grants | Ongoing collaborations 


Using invertebrate animal models such as bees we investigate cognitive abilities from a comparative perspective to understand the evolution and function of neurocognitive systems. We also study the mechanisms of specific abilities and their neural correlates.

Research directions

  • Lateralization: The different functional specialization of the right and left sides of the nervous system has been shown to be a characteristic of complex brains as well as simpler ones. Studying this fascinating feature in invertebrates allows us to uncover possible mechanisms and functions shared by different taxa as well as its evolution. We investigate behavioral asymmetries in a variety of cognitive tasks as well as their neural correlates through electrophysiological and neuroimaging approaches.
  • Visuomotor mechanisms and spatial cognition: Some animals not only use different cues to orient themselves, but also perform some special flights to learn about the surrounding environment and be able to return to it. By changing the characteristics of different visual cues and the value of specific locations, we can understand the mechanisms through which animals learn and adjust their learning process consequently.
  • The evolution of cognition: With a brain of less than a million neurons, honeybees demonstrate a surprising degree of higher cognitive functions, including the ability to cope with the concept of ‘sameness’, recognize human faces, use top-down visual processing, balance conflicting speed accuracy demands in task allocation, and solve complex maze-type problems. This suggests that brain size is not necessarily a fundamental characteristic of a performing brain and opens many questions about what those fundamental characteristics are.  
  • Sentience and pain: the traditional view that only vertebrates can feel pain is slowly fading. Invertebrates display complex behaviours and responses to stimuli, raising questions about their capacity to experience pain. Our research aims to provide behavioural and neuropharmacological evidence for their conscious pain. Understanding their experience could have implications for their conservation and ethical treatment. In addition, a greater awareness of invertebrate sentience could broaden our perspective on the nature of consciousness and pain in animals. 


  • Elisa Frasnelli, Principal Investigator
  • Léa Baucour, trainee
  • Anna Blaauwgeers, Erasmus+ student (internship)
  • Jochem Brouwer, Erasmus+ student (internship)
  • Victor Di Rollo, trainee
  • Davide Liga, Postgraduate fellow
  • Elisa Pasquini, PhD Student


For a complete list see Elisa Frasnelli personal webpage


Welcome grant for new PIs

Ongoing collaborations

  • Prof Natalie Hampel de Ibarra, University of Exeter, UK
  • Prof Tecumseh Fitch, University of Vienna, AT
  • Prof Zhanna Reknikova, Institute of Systematics and Ecology of Animals, Siberian Branch RAS, Novosibirsk, RU
  • Prof Anna Wilkinson and Prof Daniel Mills, University of Lincoln, UK