Goldfish Don’t Actually Forget in Seconds — Here’s the Scientific Truth

Have you watched Finding Nemo or its sequel, Finding Dory? One of the most memorable characters is, amusingly, the fish who has a very short-term memory span. Voiced by Ellen DeGeneres, Dory became the main comic relief of the movies — and it further reinforced the idea that fish were really forgetful.

But are fish that terrible memory recall? We’ve heard about the three-second memory span of goldfish. Yet it seems that this is more of an unsubstantiated belief and less a scientific fact. So if the latter is right all along, how long can a goldfish remember an event or action? Let’s find out below.

Goldfish Don’t Actually Forget in Seconds — Here’s the Scientific Truth

A Simple Yet Clever Experiment

Back in 2008, a teenager studying in Adelaide, Australia, thought of a way to check whether the goldfish did forget after mere seconds or not. You see, he couldn’t understand why such a creature would develop such a short memory span. It didn’t make sense from an evolutionary perspective.

So what was his plan? Simple: He used food and Lego. Whenever he gave the fish food, he would also drop a red piece of Lego in the same area inside the tank. He’d remove the Lego each day and place it back whenever it was time for the goldfish to eat. This experiment occurred for at least three weeks.

The 15-year-old then stopped dropping the red piece of Lego for a week. At this point, you might expect the goldfish to disassociate the Lego with the arrival of fish feed — but the opposite happened. Once he placed the Lego, the goldfish swarmed to the area. They were clearly expecting the food to drop.

Goldfish Don’t Actually Forget in Seconds — Here’s the Scientific Truth

At Least Five Months — Not Seconds

According to scientists, a goldfish can retain information for five months. That’s not even the maximum duration, so it’s not ridiculous to think that the fish can recall for far longer. Similar to the teen’s strategy, the researchers used food to help the goldfish remember a pattern.

But instead of Lego, the team built a lever to the tank. If pressed, it will release fish feed. The goldfish understood how the level mechanism worked, and soon enough, they were going to it for food every day. What’s also amazing is that the small creatures always pressed the lever at a particular time.

Then there’s the experiment using sound. Whenever the goldfish would eat, they were exposed to a specific sound. They were then let out into the wild for five months — that’s way past three seconds. Yet once the researchers played the sound file, the goldfish went to the place where they were initially fed.

Goldfish Don’t Actually Forget in Seconds — Here’s the Scientific Truth

What This Means for the Goldfish

Since goldfish don’t actually have a short memory span, perhaps it’s time pet owners provided them with more complex fish tanks. A simple, small bowl won’t do anything to keep them entertained. Otherwise, they won’t be as active as they should be. Add and change decorations from time to time.

Hopefully, this helped you better appreciate goldfish. They aren’t dumb, and it’s time for everyone to get rid of the myth that they can only remember for a few seconds.