Animal IQ

Goldfish Have Great Memories, Thank You Very Much

When it comes to smarts, fish get a bad rap. If you've ever seen Disney's Finding Nemo, you'll remember the forgetful blue tang fish, Dory. Defamation, we say! It's a common myth that goldfish have poor memories, but mounting evidence suggests that they have rather good memories and can even be trained, much like dogs.

Three Seconds? WRONG.

Just how long can a goldfish remember something? Try one whole year. Yep—according to behavioral ecologist Culum Brown, fish are surprisingly intelligent creatures. After about five tries, Brown taught some goldfish to escape an artificial trawl net with a hole. As Brown explains to ABC News Australia: "If you put the fish aside and test them a year later, they still remember exactly where the escape route is." Okay, we're impressed.

In addition to stealthily avoiding predators, goldfish can get pretty creative when it comes to catching food. In one study, researchers successfully taught some goldfish to press a lever at a certain time of day to get food. For another experiment, fish grew to associate a certain sound with feeding time. When the fish were grown, researchers played the same song over a loudspeaker, and, according to Today I Found Out, "the fish swam from wherever they were in the sea, back to where they were released." Goldfish have also been shown to recognize their owners, play fetch, distinguish classical music from blues music, and even play soccer. Now we're really impressed.

Giving Us a Run For Our Memory

There we have it, friends — fish are more complicated than we once thought. For this reason, experts recommend that goldfish owners regularly switch up the environment of their fish tanks to extend their pets' lives. Keep things interesting for Goldy! Here's another tidbit we can glean from this information: the human attention span declined from 12 seconds in the year 2000 to eight seconds in 2016. And goldfish? They have an attention span of nine seconds. Let that sink in for eight seconds. [2019 note: This fact, while widely reported in 2017, turns out not to be true. The human attention span is much more complicated than that.]

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Watch And Learn: Our Favorite Content About Fish

Are You More Forgetful Than A Fish?

The Link Between Gesturing While Talking And Fish

Key Facts In This Video

  1. Humans may have inherited our link between gesturing and vocalizing from fish. 00:27

  2. Blind children have been observed gesturing while they speak. 01:26

  3. One study found that children who learned math from someone gesturing performed better on tests than those who didn't. 02:05

Written by Curiosity Staff April 12, 2017

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