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Beacon experiment 'busts' goldfish memory myth


The commonly held belief that goldfish have short memories has been debunked by 15 year old Rory Stokes, a student at the Australian Science and Mathematics School in Adelaide.

"We are told that a goldfish has a memory span of less than three seconds... I wanted to challenge this theory as I believe it is a myth intended to make us feel less guilty about keeping fish in small tanks." Rory said.

His experiments involved placing a beacon in the fish tank at feeding time each day and measuring the time it took for fish to swim and obtain their food reward. The time taken reduced dramatically over a 3 week period, from a minute to a few seconds at which point Rory removed the beacon from the feeding process.

Six days later, he once again placed the beacon in the water and despite not seeing it for almost a week, the fish swam to the beacon in 4.4 seconds, showing they had remembered the association between food and the beacon for at least six days.

"My results strongly showed that goldfish can retain knowledge for at least six days," Rory said.

http://www.livenews.com.au/Articles/2008/02/18/SA_schoolboy_explodes_fishmemory_myth to news article

Is the conditioned association between the beacon and food the same as remembering one follows the other?

(This is a legitimate question. I'm not trying to be a smart ass or anything.)
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Yeah, I'm curious about that too. We used to flash the tank light on and off before feeding our fish and they'd all swim to the top to get ready. I didn't assume it was about memory but an association between the light and food.
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All the fish I have every had, goldfish, guppies, betas, mollies, all swim to you or the place they expect food to come. Especially if it's at the same time.
I have never met anyone who actually believed that myth anyway...
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An ultra common experiment for youngsters. They don't have to see it on mythbusters - they can think it up themselves. It's boring and old to us, but for kids at that age, it's a clever experiment that teaches them quite a bit on numerous levels.
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"Yeah, I’m curious about that too. We used to flash the tank light on and off before feeding our fish and they’d all swim to the top to get ready. I didn’t assume it was about memory but an association between the light and food."

yeah, you're right it's classical conditioning, not unlike Pavlov's experiments with dogs. Pavlov would ring a bell at feeding time, and eventually the dogs would begin to salivate when the bell rang, expecting food.

it's still about memory though, as they remember to make the association.

neat.
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Apparently there were maze tests conducted to support this observation.

It is a classic example of Pavlovian conditioning and there is some level of memory association at work.

Also, I remember the mythbusters episode was inconclusive: Jamie's fish appeared to adapt to the maze while Adam's fish were eating their own poo! ;)
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@red
"but for kids at that age, it’s a clever experiment that teaches them quite a bit on numerous levels."

Kid's that age??? The kid is 15, not 5. When I was 15 I designed and built my own working Gas Chromatograph (with both a FID and TCD), not train fish to swim to food.

Sucks that public education in Australia is no better then it is here in the States.
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goldfish are way smarter than they get credit for. however, they are way dumber than the top 10 smartest animals (ie, cats, dogs, pigs, parrots, etc.)

my goldfish commonly eat their own feces, and sometimes they don't spit it out. don't know if that's a measure of intelligence, but it sure is gross.
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Bean is right. The Mythbusters went above and beyond what Rory did. The Mythbusters tested the myth for 2 months (unlike 3 weeks) and the fish were left alone for a full month to remember their routine (unlike six days).

Besides, the article seems to be a rip off of Mythbusters quotes. The goldfish memory episode quoted "debunked" about five times, and stated "the theory of keeping fish in small tanks" right from the show.

If someone did a better and more concise experiment years before you did, there's no need to do a smaller test and tell the whole world.
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Anybody stop to think that maybe this is a sad demonstration of a poor-thinking journo than abusing the kid?

I've had kids of that age do all sorts of experiments which have been repeated a number of times before. So the 15 year old isn't breaking new ground. They obviously had an assignment, chose something that interested them, replicated it...and some desperate journalist thinks to sensationalise it. Kid's probably like a deer in headlights with the fame of it, but hardly entered it thinking he was Einstein.

If anything, I think it deserves praise for Australia's education system, while a wake-up call for science journalism.

Athon
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Okay they aren't the smartest but I always thought goldfish had a longer memory then scientists gave them credit for. I'm sure they can come up with a better experiment. This one doesn't "hold much water" with me. The fish may just have been hungry and checking otu the new onject. BTW, goldfish need a 30 gallon or bigger aquarium to be kept healthy. The bowls are just temporary death traps.
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The experiment actually demonstrates operant conditioning, since swimming toward the beacon is a voluntary action that's reinforced by the reward of food.

Classical conditioning comes into play if, for instance, a fish involuntarily sticks out its tongue whenever it catches sight of a shrimp. If you repeatedly place the beacon in the water right before giving the fish a shrimp, the fish will habitually stick out its tongue in response to the beacon, even if you don't feed it afterwards.
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MoniA is right. Goldfish need inordinate amounts of water because they produce copious amounts of waste material/feces through their gills and fecal matter.

People that stick them in stagnant bowls are cruelly killing goldfish slowly - no to mention those stuck in ipods!!

i don't know how many people ive met who wonder why their fish die in one week (space, uncycled tank, waste materials, untreated water, etc.)

yes, i love fish!
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i am more interested in learning where this myth came from in the first place- who decided that fish can only remember 3 seconds into the past, and how did they test their hypothesis? i know that my entire life this has been the common belief re: goldfish, but how on earth did it actually start!
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VonSkippy: The next time you decide to slag off a fifteen-year-old kid, I would recommend checking your grammar first. Your arrogance is not warranted.

As for the experiment, yes the Mythbusters have been there and done that. However, I will still be passing this link on to someone I know, who has been using the "three-second memory" myth as an excuse for keeping four good-sized goldfish in a ten-gallon tank and three others in a bowl. He actually said that goldfish are too stupid to feel pain, and even if they did, they wouldn't remember! And he wonders why they're now dying one by one...
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I'm cruious about it.Goldfish need inordinate amounts of water because they produce copious amounts of waste material/feces through their gills and fecal matter.I ever checked the similar video on horsematch com place.
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well i for one am glad that this article was brought to our attention - it certainly stirred up quite a lively discussion/debate among readers. and just because its been done on mythbusters doesn't mean its myth busted/confirmed/plausible. hmmph!
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