Do Goldfish Really Have a 3 Second Memory? The Truth Behind the Myth

MYTH: Goldfish memory spans are just three-seconds long

FACT: Goldfish can remember things for months!

Most goldfish keepers will have heard the “fact” that goldfish memory spans are just three seconds long – but is it true? Is the memory of goldfish really that short?

The answer is a very definite no! Scientist have proven that goldfish memory spans are nowhere near as short as three seconds. Your goldfish can actually remember things for at least five months!

Disproving the goldfish memory myth

At least two separate studies into goldfish memory have proven that they remember things for more than just three seconds.

In the first study, scientists added a lever to a goldfish tank, which dispensed food when pressed. Once goldfish learned to press the lever, they would regularly return to it to get more food. Even more amazingly, the goldfish actually learned to press the lever at the right time of day! Researchers adjusted the lever so that it would only dispense food within a one-hour window… and the fish learned to come back each day around that time!

The second study used sound to train fish. A certain sound was played each time the fish were fed, which caused them to associate that sound with food. The fish were then released into the wild  for around five months. After the five months had passed, the sound was played again and the fish returned to their original feeding place!

If goldfish memory was just three seconds long then they would not be able to remember that pressing the lever dispensed food or that the sound meant food was available. Myth: busted!

The best part is, you don’t just have to take our word for it! Why not try testing the memory of your own goldfish?

All very interesting… but does goldfish memory matter?!

You may be thinking that this is all fine, but not very useful! Well think again! The ability to train fish (not goldfish, but other species) could have huge implications for fish farming. Instead of having to cover the costs of fish care, cages, staff and feeding, fish farmers could train young fish to respond to a sound, release them into the wild to mature naturally, and then play the sound to call them back when they are ready to be harvested.

Find out more about goldfish brains and intelligence.

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