Bee Somebody

Born to bee royal: A queen bee (large bee in centre) is surrounded by honey bee workers (library image)

Bees are team players. Img credit:

Apparently, honey bees are team players. They can flexibly switch roles from hunter to feeder and back again when the hive demands it, according to a finding published in Nature Neuroscience today. What’s novel about this finding is that the bees’ flexibility stems back to their DNA, previously thought to be a blueprint for life that couldn’t be changed. Although worker bees are all born equal, in that they have the same genetic makeup, environmental factors regulate how DNA in their brains is expressed–leading them to play the hunter or feeder role interchangeably.

What about humans? Andrew Feinberg, a senior researcher on the study puts these findings into perspective for us, if this “is true in a bee, it is likely to also be true in us.” I’m not sure changing roles is as easy for us as it is for bees. Nevertheless, to bee somebody in today’s competitive climate requires flexibility. When the team or organization demands it, we must often change roles to stay in the game. Indeed, Dennis Charney and his research team at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in NYC show that people who thrive in stressful conditions tend to be more mentally flexible than their less resilient counterparts.

How can teams build mental flexibility? Start by learning about the key components of mental flexibility. Charney and colleagues write that, “Individuals who are able to think flexibly, produce alternate explanations, reframe positively, and accept challenging situations or distressing events tend to be more psychologically resilient than inflexible thinkers.”

Which athletes in sports today have the most mental flexibility?

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