Do fish have a three-second memory?

I remember hearing as a kid that goldfish have a memory capable of remembering only a few seconds. Scientists have debunked that myth, proving that goldfish are much smarter than we think.

A study conducted by researchers at the Technion Institute of Technology in Israel has proved Dory to not be as forgetful as we think her to be. These researchers became fish masters as they trained fish to “associate a sound played through a loudspeaker with feeding time” (article). After using this feeding routine for a month, the fish were placed into the wild. A few months later (without the aforementioned feeding routine, of course), the fish returned when they heard the sound, proving that their memories are much more capable than we give them credit for.

A similar study at Plymouth University suggests that goldfish can pack three months of memory into their little minds. Using food as a reward, the fish in this study learned to press a lever that would release food – but only at certain times. Eventually, the fish made the connection between timing and food distribution and picked up on what time lunch could be expected.

I wouldn’t have thought anything of this discovery, but that’s why I’m not the one doing the research. The researchers responsible for this myth-busting noted how this could affect fish farming. Instead of forcing fish to grow in cages and wreak havoc on the environment, fish farmers could utilize a fish’s memory to train it, let it grow naturally in open water, and recall it using sound when the fish has fully matured.

For an interesting example of young minds at work, read this article about a boy who used similar sound-food association to figure this whole thing out – potentially before researchers caught on and led their own studies.

6 thoughts on “Do fish have a three-second memory?

  1. Elizabeth Sweitzer

    I liked this post because it was completely unexpected! it makes more sense to me that fish would only be able to remember for short periods of time, but it is very interesting to me that they can actually remember things for months given their size. This article explains the different parts of this fish brain and how they work. It might help to explain how and why they are able to retain information for so long given their size.

  2. Gabriela Isabel Stevenson

    In your title, you used the “memory”, where I’ve often heard that fish have a tree second attention span. I found an interesting article that stated in the abstract that attention is the “ability to selectively process information”, while memory (or working memory) is the ability to “retain information in an accessible state.” While this article states that attention span and working memory are related, do you think they are interchangeable in the context of the study you found? Here’s the article, let me know what you think!

  3. sjl5595

    Your blog is really interesting. It is almost a common sense that goldfish only has three second of memory and your blog successfully reject it by providing the evidence from the researches illustrates that goldfish actually has better memory than human. Although the experiment is well conducted, more data can be more convincing to this conclusion. But this blog is great over roll!

  4. Caitlyn Elizabeth Davis

    This blog was so interesting because my brother has a salt water fish tank and I never thought about what was going on in their little mind. This study reminded me of the interesting topic of sea turtles. Sea turtles are able to go back to the exact location where they were born to give birth to their own young. The turtles use their “magnetic head” to guide them through the magnetic field back to their place of birth. Who knew a turtle could be so smart. Check out more about this here .

  5. Courtney Taylor Post author

    That’s a great connection! I didn’t officially learn about Pavlov’s dogs in school, so the similarities between the two studies didn’t even cross my mind. Thanks for the link!

  6. btm5243

    Courtney, I would have never thought to write a blog about this, and am thankful that you did because your blog was both interesting and different than everyone else’s. I read the article you suggested to read at the bottom of your blog and that reminded me a lot about Pavlov’s dog and the experiments done with that. Basically I found that your blog and studies done with Pavlov’s dog were related because the gold fish was ultimately able to remember and relate that the Beacon was a place for the fish to get food. If you want to understand more why I immediately compared the two you can check out this site and read a little about Pavlov’s dog.

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