Do Goldfish Only Have a 3 Second Memory? L8



It is the age old myth of believing that goldfish only have the memory span of 3 seconds long. With further research and experiments we now know that goldfish have a memory that last at least 3 months long (Harfield, 2014). If the myth was true, this would mean that the goldfish is never given enough time to process information to the long term memory. Short term memory is described as memory that can hold at least 5-7 items for a period of at least 15-30 seconds long (Goldstein, 2011). Long term memory happens to be a little different as we transfer information through repetition and rehearsal the memories can last for years, well for a goldfish only months at a time. With this understanding we would think that goldfish wouldn’t even make it out of the short term memory stage either.

We can easily test a goldfish memory by conducting our own science experiment. It can be as simple as using a lever for the fish to receive its food (The Goldfish Tank, 2016). It is a very similar concept to operant conditioning. When a goldfish presses on the lever and food is released the goldfish is able to remember the next day that when the lever is pressed food is released. If the gold fish was unable to make that connection, then the memory span of the goldfish would be shorter. Because the goldfish is able to make that connection we can conclude that a goldfish’s memory is much longer than what the rumors say. We can also learn when the memory span ends when we realize that the goldfish no longer goes to the lever for its daily feeding. Another experiment that was conducted to test a goldfish’s memory was similar to Pavlov’s famous dog and saliva experiment to test classical conditioning. The same was done for goldfish in which they learned that it was feeding time when a certain sound was played. This was proven to be true when the sound was played five months later and the goldfish still correlated the sound to feeding time.

In conclusion, memory is an important aspect of all of our lives. In the case of goldfish memory is a necessary tool for survival when it comes to remembering feeding or even remembering predators in the real ocean. We should all experiment on all of our pets to see how long they are able to remember things.

Goldstein, E. B. (2011). Cognitive Psychology. Belmont, Canada: Cengage Learning .

Harfield, D. (2014, February 4). Why goldfish having a three-second memory is a myth…. Retrieved from How It Works:

The Goldfish Tank. (2016). Goldfish Memory: Is 3 second goldfish memory a myth? Retrieved from The Goldfish Tank:

Elizabeth Negron

2 thoughts on “Do Goldfish Only Have a 3 Second Memory? L8

  1. Trenaye Javonne Youngblood

    I enjoyed your article, it reminded me of the saying “an elephant never forgets” and me think about human interactions with animals. People who don’t work with animals regularly, such as a farmer or a professional animal trainer would, tend to live their lives with their animals thinking “oh they won’t remember that” (maybe if a paw gets stepped on, or a meal is given late). We don’t think really about our animals having long term memories until they do something that we think is interpretable. For instance, if you haven’t seen your dog in a month and when you finally do see him he’s jumping around and licking you, you’d assume he missed you, and to miss you he would have to remember you. I’m not sure about many other animals but according to Scientific American, elephants really don’t forget much. They are capable of remembering old feeding grounds and multiple ways to get there, the locations of all of their relatives at any given moment, old enemies, and old friend that they haven’t seen in years. With that being said, humans should be much more intentional with the interactions we have with our animal friends. We don’t know how much they are remembering, but we should at least try to help have nice memories.

    Ritchie, J. (2009, January 12). Fact or Fiction?: Elephants Never Forget. Retrieved from Scientific American:

  2. Paul Hernandez

    In the Goldfish example, we do not measure the maximum capacity of it’s long term memory but a behavior pattern on the second example via Pavlov’s methodology of classical conditioning. yet it does appear that the short term to long term transition is similar in human’s. As per “Figure 5.2: Flow diagram for Atkinson and Shiffrin’s (1968) model of memory” (Goldstien, 2011) In this model the addition of including the control process of rehearsal can increase the transition from episodic short to long term memory for the goldfish. But it will only hold for as long as it is rehearsed often and limited to the capacity of it’s LTM neuron’s capacity.

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