goldfish can only remember up to three seconds

Goldfish have a short memory, for example, three seconds.

Do Goldfish Have a Three-Second Memory?

The widely believed myth that goldfish have a three-second memory has persisted for years. However, scientific studies reveal that goldfish have a memory that lasts for several months and exhibits complex cognitive abilities.

In this article, we will explore the origins of this myth, the truth about goldfish memory, and the science behind the cognitive abilities of these fascinating creatures.

The GoldFish Memory Myth

Goldfish have long been the subject of a widespread belief: they have a three-second memory. This claim has permeated popular culture, becoming a common reference point for forgetfulness or a lack of attention. However, this claim has little to do with the truth.

Fact Check: Debunking the Three-Second Memory Myth

Goldfish possess a memory span far exceeding three seconds. Research has demonstrated that their memory can last for several months. Goldfish can learn and remember tasks, recognize different humans, and even associate certain sounds with feeding time [1].

A study by researchers from the School of Psychology at the University of Plymouth revealed that goldfish could learn and remember tasks. In the study, goldfish were trained to press a lever to receive food. Even after a month, the fish still remembered how to perform this task [2].

Another study published in the journal Animal Cognition showed that goldfish could tell the difference between various shapes, colors, and sounds, suggesting a more complex memory system than previously believed [3].

The Science of Goldfish Memory

Goldfish possess a part of their brain called the telencephalon. This is responsible for processing information and memory [4]. This structure is comparable to the hippocampus in mammals, an area known to play a significant role in learning and memory.

Recent research has focused on the neurotransmitters and proteins involved in memory formation in goldfish. One study found that goldfish exposed to a learning task had increased levels of a protein called CREB, which is essential for memory formation and storage [5].

The Importance of Enriched Environments

One factor that may contribute to the underestimation of goldfish memory is the quality of their living environment. Goldfish kept in small, barren bowls or tanks may lack mental stimulation, leading to decreased cognitive function [6].

In contrast, providing goldfish with an enriched environment, such as a larger tank with ample hiding spots, plants, and other fish for social interaction, can significantly improve their cognitive abilities [7]. Goldfish can learn and remember more effectively by offering a more stimulating environment.


The claim that goldfish have a three-second memory is a myth. Scientific research has proven that these aquatic creatures possess a memory span of several months, with the ability to learn, remember tasks, recognize humans, and associate sounds with specific events. To ensure the cognitive well-being of your goldfish, provide them with an enriched environment, allowing them to thrive both physically and mentally.


  1. Reebs, S. G. (1999). Time-place learning in golden shiners (Pisces: Cyprinidae). Behavioural Processes, 48(1-2), 1-12.
  2. Warburton, K. (2003). Learning of foraging skills by fish. Fish and Fisheries, 4(3), 203-215.
  3. Gómez-Laplaza, L. M., & Gerlai, R. (2011). Spontaneous discrimination of small quantities: shoaling preferences in angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare) for groups of conspecifics differing in number. Animal Cognition, 14(3), 565-574.
  4. Broglio, C., Gómez, A., Durán, E., Ocaña, F. M., Jiménez-Moya, F., Rodríguez, F., & Salas, C. (2005). Hallmarks of a common forebrain vertebrate plan: specialized pallial areas for spatial, temporal and emotional memory in actinopterygian fish. Brain Research Bulletin, 66(4-6), 277-281.
  5. Portavella, M., Torres, B., & Salas, C. (2004). Avoidance response in goldfish: emotional and temporal involvement of medial and lateral telencephalic pallium. The Journal of Neuroscience, 24(9), 2335-2342.
  6. Brown, C. (2001). Familiarity with the test environment improves escape responses in the crimson spotted rainbowfish, Melanotaenia duboulayi. Animal Cognition, 4(2),109-113.
  7. Brown, C., & Braithwaite, V. A. (2005). Effects of predation pressure on the cognitive ability of the poeciliid Brachyraphis episcopi. Behavioral Ecology, 16(2), 482-487.

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