Do Goldfish Have Good Memory? Exploring Goldfish Intelligence

Goldfish are often considered the archetypal “forgetful” pet, with the myth persisting that they only have a 3-second memory span. This myth likely stems from their lack of reaction when owners approach the tank, interpreted as the fish “forgetting” the owner was ever there.

However, scientific research has shown goldfish actually have surprisingly good memories for fish. Their memory abilities can be trained and improved, similar to other animals. While goldfish memory doesn’t compare to human memory and reasoning, it exceeds expectations and reveals insights into animal cognition.

Goldfish Brain Structure

Anatomy of a Goldfish

Goldfish have a very different brain structure compared to mammals. Mammals, including humans, have a hippocampus which is critical for forming memories. Fish do not have a hippocampus, but instead have telencephalon regions that serve a similar function. Recent research using advanced imaging has shown that goldfish have a more complex forebrain than previously thought, with neural cell types similar to mammals.

However, the lack of a hippocampus means goldfish form memories differently than mammals. Overall, goldfish brains are more primitive but still capable of cognitive functions like memory formation.

Short-Term Memory

Research shows that goldfish actually have good short-term memory, despite the common myth that they only remember things for 3 seconds.

Studies have demonstrated that goldfish can be trained to push a lever to receive a food reward and retain this skill over time. In one experiment at the University of Plymouth, goldfish were trained to push a lever to receive food. When tested again several months later, the fish remembered the trick and were still able to push the lever to get a reward. This indicates that goldfish have short-term memories lasting at least several months.

Other research has shown that goldfish can learn to navigate mazes and remember the route for at least a week. Their ability to learn and retain tricks and routes demonstrates good short-term memory.

So while goldfish may not remember minute details for very long, studies show they have decent short-term memory for learned behaviors and navigation skills. Their memory spans are longer than the common myth suggests.

Long-Term Memory

Studies have shown that goldfish actually have quite good long-term memory capacities, contradicting the myth of the “3 second goldfish memory”.

Research by Philippe Broussard found that when trained to push a lever to receive food, goldfish remembered the trick for at least 5 months. Another study trained goldfish to navigate a maze, and then tested the fish at intervals from 40 to 230 days later. The goldfish were able to successfully complete the maze, demonstrating long-term memory.

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Additional research has revealed goldfish can remember visual information for a year or longer. In one experiment, fish were trained to respond to certain colors or shapes. When tested 12 months later, the goldfish showed preference for the colors and shapes they had been trained to recognize.

Overall, scientific evidence clearly shows goldfish are capable of retaining memories for significantly longer than 3 seconds or even 3 minutes. Their long-term memory spans can extend to months or possibly years for learned behaviors and visual information.

Memory Duration


Goldfish have a longer memory duration than the common myth of only remembering things for 3 seconds. According to research from the University of Plymouth, goldfish were trained to push a lever to receive a food reward. The fish were able to remember this trick for up to 5 months.

Another study from Tel Aviv University found that when trained to navigate a maze, goldfish began showing signs of remembering the correct path after just a few days. They could successfully navigate the maze for up to 5-6 months.

So while goldfish may not have the longest memory of all animals, research shows their memory lasts much longer than just 3 seconds. They can remember learned behaviors and tasks for at least several months with the right training.

Factors Affecting Memory

Goldfish memory can be impacted by various factors related to their environment, diet, and health. Studies have shown that enriched environments with activities and changing stimuli can improve memory and learning abilities in goldfish. Providing an aquarium with plants, rocks, driftwood, and accessories allows them to explore, interact, and be mentally stimulated. Goldfish raised in bare tanks with limited enrichment performed worse on maze tests.

Diet and nutrition also play a key role. Goldfish fed diverse, high-quality diets with omega-3s and antioxidants demonstrate better recall compared to those on basic flake food. Malnourishment or poor water quality that leads to infections and disease can degrade memory over time. Research shows the hippocampus region of the goldfish brain, critical for memory formation, is highly sensitive to environmental and physiological stressors. Maintaining excellent aquarium conditions and fish health helps support strong cognitive abilities. Overall, goldfish memory is heavily dependent on their living environment and care.

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Memory Training

Feeding a Goldfish

Goldfish can be trained through various techniques to improve their memory and intelligence. This is contrary to the myth that goldfish have a 3-second memory span. In fact, goldfish have been shown to remember tasks for months or even years.

Some effective techniques for training goldfish memory include:

  • Conditioning through food rewards. Goldfish can be trained to associate certain behaviors with getting fed. This type of conditioning strengthens neural pathways related to the task being learned.

  • Mazes and puzzles. Challenging goldfish with physical tasks like navigating mazes helps build spatial memory. Completing puzzles also exercises cognitive skills.

  • Repetition and practice. Like any learned skill, goldfish benefit from repeated training sessions to reinforce memory. Spaced repetition of tasks leads to long-term retention.

  • Social interaction. Allowing goldfish to be in groups provides mental stimulation from interacting with others. This can enhance brain development.

  • Environment enrichment. Providing an engaging aquarium environment with toys, plants, and decor encourages exploration and cognitive engagement. A stimulating habitat supports better memory.

With regular training exercises that challenge their natural behaviors, goldfish can display impressive learning capacities, problem-solving abilities, and memory retention over time. Their memory spans can be extended well beyond the persistent myth of only remembering things for 3 seconds.

Goldfish vs. Other Animals

The myth that goldfish have a 3-second memory has led many people to believe they are inferior in intelligence compared to other pets and animals. However, research shows goldfish actually have impressive memories that can outperform some mammals.

One study tested goldfish memory against rats by training both species to push a lever to receive a food reward. The lever would only dispense food at certain fixed intervals. Goldfish were able to learn the timing of the rewards faster than rats, indicating better working memory.

Goldfish recognition and recall of complex shapes has also been shown to exceed that of gerbils and hamsters. In maze trials, goldfish navigated the maze faster on repeated attempts, demonstrating long-term spatial memory.

Compared to dogs, goldfish may have some memory advantages. Dogs can remember hand signals and words for about 5 minutes, whereas goldfish have shown food-reward memories lasting at least 3 months.

Overall, goldfish possess strong learning abilities, complex behaviors, and memories that can meet or exceed those of some other pets. Their intelligence is on par with animals we normally credit with higher cognition. The myth of the 3-second goldfish memory is clearly false.

Memory Misconceptions

Goldfish have long endured the myth that they have bad memories. The phrase “memory of a goldfish” implies someone is extremely forgetful, only remembering things for a few seconds. This myth likely started because goldfish do have short attention spans and can get easily distracted. However, scientific research shows goldfish actually have good long-term memories.

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Goldfish can remember complex mazes and learned behaviors for at least a year. In lab experiments, goldfish demonstrated they can remember visual cues, times, places, and even music. Their memory has been proven to last months – much longer than the infamous “3 seconds.” While goldfish may struggle with short-term memory, their long-term recall is impressive compared to other animals.

Overall the myth about goldfish forgetfulness is false. Goldfish have cognitive abilities on par with dogs, primates, and even humans in some memory tasks. Their memory capabilities are quite sophisticated, able to create mental maps, learn from consequences, and retain information for long periods. So next time someone jokes about having “goldfish memory,” feel free to set the record straight.


Goldfish have demonstrated impressive memory abilities that challenge the myth that they have a 3-second memory span. While they may not remember exact events, goldfish have been shown to remember concepts, retain learned behaviors, and recognize people over extended periods of time.

Key findings include:

  • Goldfish have good spatial memory and can recall locations for months. Studies found they navigated mazes faster after training.

  • They can be conditioned to respond to visual cues like colors and shapes. This shows they remember associations.

  • Goldfish recognized their owners even after being separated for months. Facial recognition indicates long-term memory.

  • Maze tests revealed goldfish memory lasted at least 3 months. Their memory duration exceeds the myth of a 3-second span.

  • Factors like environment, diet, and training can strengthen goldfish memory. Enriched living spaces and interaction help exercise their brains.

In summary, goldfish do have good memory that can persist over time. Their memory abilities are much better than commonly believed. With proper care and training, goldfish can display impressive learning skills and remembrance.

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Ashley Eckhoff

As I dived into the world of goldfish, I discovered that they are incredibly misunderstood creatures. Many people, like the past me, believed goldfish to be the perfect 'low maintenance' pet. I felt the need to share my newfound knowledge, and thus, the Goldfish Blog was born.

The information site will make your goldfish keeping journey delightful and informative.
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