Goldfish Smarter Than Frat Guys

We’ve all heard that goldfish only have a three second memory and thus it’s ok to eat them, live, while your’e inebriated and in Pittsburgh. Well, a 15-year old student in Southern Australia has turned that assumption on its head by proving goldfish have much more powerful memories than previously known. Alright, let me explain.

In college, my buddies and I used to…

…take a road trip up to the University of Pittsburgh for their Goldfish Party, an annual get together where a frat house was filled with thousands of goldfish scattered around in those little aquarium bags. Inevitably, the event would turn into a total massacre, where frat guys would challenge one another to eat the most live goldfish. I always thought that this practice was morally acceptable because the frat guys were slightly more intelligent than the goldfish and thus, higher up on the food chain. Turns out I might have been wrong.

Billy Clarington? It’s me, Joey Carr! How are you? I haven’t seen you in years.

Rory Stokes, from the Australian Science and Mathematics School in Adelaide, used a basic experiment to turn the conventional goldfish wisdom on its head. First he taught the goldfish to associate a beacon in their water with food. He then removed the beacon from the water for six days. Lo and behold, when he returned the beacon to the water almost a week later, the fish swam right to it, proving that their memory capabilities stretch way beyond three seconds.

“We are told that a goldfish has a memory span of less than three seconds and that no matter how small its tank is, it will always discover new places and objects,” Rory said to the New Zealand Herald, “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.” Yes, or less guilty about feeling a live goldfish swishing around in your stomach until it inevitably succumbs to your gastric juices.


  1. #1 Teisha
    February 19, 2008

    I just wanted to stress that goldfish should _NOT_ be kept in a small bowl/tank without a filter — it is a very common misconception that they are fine in a bowl, but in fact they are very dirty fish and need a filter to clean up all their waste. More information brought to you by Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_goldfish

    If you want a pet fish in a bowl, your best bet would be a betta.

  2. #2 yeahand
    February 19, 2008

    Yeah, and if you’re going to get a betta, get a 1-2 gallon tank.

    Speaking of fish, I have a betta near my desk that I look at periodically during the day, and I would say that the betta has a suprising range of behaviors. It differs on time of day (they ‘sleep’ at night), light, food, cleanliness of water. They also have special behaviors for aggression, mating, anxiety, and happiness. My betta has also been ‘trained’ similar to what was mentioned above, to associate increased light in the morning (opening the shades) with food appearing in a particular corner of the tank. Nowadays as soon as I open the shades in the morning, the betta swims right to the corner.

    Obviously my betta fish isn’t going to solve rocket science problems tomorrow, but it bothers me how frequently people like to assume that all animals are ‘stupid’ including fish.

  3. #3 Rick.
    February 19, 2008

    They’re stupid enough. They’re in a fish tank. I’m not. 😉

  4. #4 anon
    February 20, 2008

    Was there a control group in the experiment? How did rory stokes know that the goldfish didn’t simply swim to the light because they are attracted to the light?

  5. #5 Dave S.
    February 20, 2008

    Are you sure you’re getting the better of that deal Rick? 😉

  6. #6 Luna_the_cat
    February 20, 2008

    I have always found this a horrifying exercise in inflicting pain on an animal (and I have plenty of behavioral evidence, even in peer-reviewed papers, that fish are capable of feeling pain) for no other reason than the amusement of people who don’t care. When does that ever become ethically ok? Would it also be ok to vivisect birds, lizards or mice for amusement alone?

    Anyway, this shouldn’t be news, that goldfish have a reasonable memory. http://nootropics.com/intelligence/smartfish.html And they can be trained like any other animal; I have two comet-type goldfish in a tank on my desk, and have trained them to various amusing behaviors in order to get food treats, including “stand on your head” and “swim through a hoop that I lower into the water”.

  7. #7 Mark
    February 20, 2008

    I beleive the Mythbusters had an episode about this as well…it was busted.

  8. #8 Jenbug
    February 20, 2008

    There was also an entry in the International Journal of Cuteoverload.com last year about a father and son who’d taught their goldfish to push a tiny soccer ball into a tiny goal net, which he remembered and could perform up to ten days later. It certainly blew my mind.

    Although in my house the 30-second memory joke never gets old.

  9. #9 Ian
    February 20, 2008

    The fact that pet fish typically will swim towards you and towards the surface – expecting a feeding – ought to lay to rest any question about their memory.

  10. #10 lyrical
    February 20, 2008

    “Man [has] always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much-the wheel, New York, wars and so on-while all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man-for precisely the same reason.” – Douglas Adams

  11. #11 synapse
    February 21, 2008

    Man, Benny, I was going to ask you out before I read this post. (I’m 24, a SF living in SF, btw).

  12. #12 Benny
    February 22, 2008

    Capricorn…since you ask.

  13. #13 Owlman
    February 22, 2008

    I always used to ask the frat guys what you call a fish without an I and they ALWAYS fell for the joke – proving that they aren’t even smarter than a 5th grader!

  14. #14 dance
    June 19, 2009

    I was very curious to see good

  15. #15 dance
    June 19, 2009

    a great fish, fresh water fish they dimity.?

  16. #16 sarah
    October 25, 2009

    what sort of fish is that

  17. #17 Baka
    May 21, 2010

    You should not be eating live animals especially not Goldfish just because they are lower in the food chain. I love fish and the sea! Poor sea creatures… Oh, and yes, we should not underestimate the power of a goldfish! They are pretty intelligent. Like mine, it knows it’s name and everything.

  18. #18 sikiş
    May 23, 2010

    What disappointed me, however, is that Dr. Bernardine Healy, former Director of the NIH, was a guest and that she didn’t slap Maher down hard for his idiotic statements about vaccines and Pasteur.

  19. #20 sikiş
    July 15, 2010

    You should not be eating live animals especially not Goldfish just because they are lower in the food chain. I love fish and the sea! Poor sea creatures… Oh, and yes, we should not underestimat

New comments have been disabled.