Do Fish Really Have a Three-Second Memory?

iStock/BravissimoS
iStock/BravissimoS

Modern myth would have you believe that goldfish can't remember anything that happened more than three seconds ago and, hence, their lives are filled with the constant excitement of never-before-seen sights and sounds.*

Like the notion that crabs and lobsters don't feel pain, this myth is one I hear a lot at my fish-centric day job and one that has been debunked time and time again. Goldfish and other fish are 1) capable of learning, 2) retaining that information, and 3) recalling and acting on it after an extended period of time. Consider the following:

"¢ Jamie Hyneman from Mythbusters trained his goldfish to recognize color patterns and run an underwater obstacle course. More than a month after initially learning the course, the fish remembered it and completed it easily without Hyneman's prompting or aid.

"¢ Rory Stokes, a 15-year-old student at the Australian Science and Mathematics School, recently conducted an experiment with his pet fish to test their memory.

He took a red Lego block and put it in his fish tank whenever he fed the fish, sprinkling the food around the block. Three weeks into the experiment, the fish were approaching the block and waiting for the food before it even hit the water. During those weeks, the time it took the fish to reach the block went from over a minute to just under five seconds. Then, for six days, Stokes fed the fish without using the block. When he placed the Lego in the tank again, the fish rushed to it in just 4.4 seconds. "They remembered perfectly well," Stokes told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. "They actually had a time faster than the average of the three feeds before I left."

"¢ A researcher at the Rowland Institute for Science in Massachusetts taught carp to distinguish a John Lee Hooker song from a Bach Oboe concerto. The carp could later categorize pieces they hadn't heard before as classical or blues. The fish also learned to distinguished between simple melodies played backwards and forwards.

"¢ Researchers from the Technion Institute of Technology in Israel played a particular sound when feeding their fish, conditioning them to associate that sound with feeding time (this is called classical conditioning, by the way, and an excellent example of it can be found here). After a month of training, the fish were released into the wild. Five months later, when the fish were fully grown adults, the sound was broadcast over a loudspeaker in the sea and the fish returned.

"¢ In a 2003 study at the School of Psychology at the University of Plymouth, fish were trained to push a lever to earn a food reward. When the lever was fixed to work only for one hour a day, the fish learned to activate it at the correct time and didn't bother with it the rest of the day.

"¢ Fish can learn outside of a laboratory setting and remember more complex routes through a natural environment, too. In a recent study from the University of Minnesota, carp were able to learn the location of a food reward within a few days and would consistently leave their home range at night and in turbid conditions to visit the food reward. The researchers suggest that the carp's memories were aided by olfactory cues and that their initial learning of the route to the food was helped by following the lead of other fish.
* * * * * *
So tell us, fish owners, have your fish ever surprised you with their cognitive abilities? Have you taught your goldfish any tricks?

* I haven't been able to find any info on where or when this fake factoid originated. I believe I first saw it on the bottom of a Snapple cap in the mid-90s. Anyone have any ideas?

Wayfair’s Fourth of July Clearance Sale Takes Up to 60 Percent Off Grills and Outdoor Furniture

Wayfair/Weber
Wayfair/Weber

This Fourth of July, Wayfair is making sure you can turn your backyard into an oasis while keeping your bank account intact with a clearance sale that features savings of up to 60 percent on essentials like chairs, hammocks, games, and grills. Take a look at some of the highlights below.

Outdoor Furniture

Brisbane bench from Wayfair
Brisbane/Wayfair

- Jericho 9-Foot Market Umbrella $92 (Save 15 percent)
- Woodstock Patio Chairs (Set of Two) $310 (Save 54 percent)
- Brisbane Wooden Storage Bench $243 (Save 62 percent)
- Kordell Nine-Piece Rattan Sectional Seating Group with Cushions $1800 (Save 27 percent)
- Nelsonville 12-Piece Multiple Chairs Seating Group $1860 (Save 56 percent)
- Collingswood Three-Piece Seating Group with Cushions $410 (Save 33 percent)

Grills and Accessories

Dyna-Glo electric smoker.
Dyna-Glo/Wayfair

- Spirit® II E-310 Gas Grill $479 (Save 17 percent)
- Portable Three-Burner Propane Gas Grill $104 (Save 20 percent)
- Digital Bluetooth Electric Smoker $224 (Save 25 percent)
- Cuisinart Grilling Tool Set $38 (Save 5 percent)

Outdoor games

American flag cornhole game.
GoSports

- American Flag Cornhole Board $57 (Save 19 percent)
- Giant Four in a Row Game $30 (Save 6 percent)
- Giant Jenga Game $119 (Save 30 percent)

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

The Reason Your Dog Follows You Everywhere

Crew, Unsplash
Crew, Unsplash

Depending on your mood, a dog that follows you everywhere can be annoying or adorable. The behavior is also confusing if you're not an expert on pet behavior. So what is it about the canine companions in our lives that makes them stick by our sides at all times?

Most experts agree on a few different reasons why some dogs are clingy around their owners. One is their pack mentality. Dogs may have been domesticated thousands of years ago, but they still consider themselves to be part of a group like their wild ancestors. When there are no other dogs around, their human family becomes their pack. According to Reader's Digest, this genetic instinct is also what motivates dogs to watch you closely and seek out your physical touch.

The second reason for the behavior has to do with the bond between you and your pet. As veterinarian Dr. Rachel Barrack told the American Kennel Club, puppies as old as 6 months can imprint on their human owners like they would their own mothers. Even older dogs will bond with the humans in their lives who show them care and affection. In these cases, a dog will shadow its owner because it sees them as an object of trust and security.

The last possible explanation for why your dog follows you has more to do with your treatment of them than their natural instincts. A popular training tactic is positive reinforcement—i.e. rewarding a dog with treats, pets, and praise when they perform positive behaviors. The point is to help your dog associate good behaviors with rewards, but after a while, they may start to associate your presence with rewards as well. That means if your dog is following you, they may be looking for treats or attention.

A clingy dog may be annoying, but it usually isn't a sign of a larger problem. If anything, it means your dog sees you in a positive light. So enjoy the extra companionship, and don't be afraid to close the door behind when you need some alone time.