CRAIG BROWN: Daft? Forget it! Goldfish are masterminds
Last week, the Belgian government proposed a ban on little round goldfish bowls, arguing that they had an impact on goldfish stress.
In my 1960s childhood, fairground stalls such as Lucky Dip, Hoopla or Hook A Duck would always offer a live goldfish as first prize. The poor little thing would then be presented to the winner in a tiny plastic bag filled halfway up with water.
The child would leave the fairground pumped up with pride, clutching the plastic bag as though it were an Oscar. The goldfish, on the other hand, would sport a mournful, hangdog look, and who could blame it?
In my experience, these goldfish never gave much back. They were never responsive to cuddling or games of Go Fetch.
And they never lasted very long: you would transfer your prize to a larger bowl, give it a pinch of goldfish food, which looked eerily like sawdust, and within a couple of days it would have floated to the surface, dead as a doornail.
In 2008, Rory Stokes, a student at the Australian Science and Mathematics School in Adelaide, began to doubt the age-old gossip that goldfish have memories like sieves
Some years back, fairgrounds seem to have jettisoned goldfish in favour of teddy bears so vast they would be declared morbidly obese if ever they were to pop into a High Street clinic for a check-up.
What has happened to all those goldfish who would, in an earlier and less enlightened age, have spent their days hanging around fairgrounds in plastic bags, waiting for a plastic duck to be hooked?
It seems they have been awarded an upgrade, and are now all bought by scientists who subject them to the goldfishy equivalent of IQ tests, which they pass with flying colours.
In 2008, Rory Stokes, a student at the Australian Science and Mathematics School in Adelaide, began to doubt the age-old gossip that goldfish have memories like sieves.
In the laboratory, he placed a beacon in a university fish tank at feeding time each day and sprinkled food around it, then measured the time it took for the goldfish to swim to the food.
Over a three-week period, the period between the beacon going in and the food being eaten reduced dramatically from a minute to a few seconds, at which point Stokes removed the beacon.
Six days later, he placed the beacon back in the water. Though the fish hadn’t seen the beacon for almost a week, they swam to it straightaway, showing they could remember the association between the food and the beacon for quite a period of time.
Judging by the time it takes me to forget whether or not I have turned out the lights every night, a goldfish’s memory is a good five days and 23 hours, 59 minutes, 56 seconds more retentive than mine.
‘We are told that a goldfish has a memory span of less than three seconds. 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,’ concluded Rory Stokes.
So much for the idea that a goldfish has the memory of a sieve. Perhaps someone should now conduct the same experiment on a sieve, just in case.
Am I alone in thinking that sieves always have a know-all look about them? It wouldn’t surprise me if half of them could recite the periodic table, or a complete list of the prime ministers of Great Britain — or even both at the same time.
In 2015, a study by Microsoft in Canada found that, thanks to mobile phones, the average human attention span had fallen from 12 seconds in 2000 to a paltry eight seconds, or substantially lower than a goldfish’s. Before long, they will be experimenting on us.
Some years back, fairgrounds seem to have jettisoned goldfish in favour of teddy bears so vast they would be declared morbidly obese if ever they were to pop into a High Street clinic for a check-up. Pictured: An Iranian girl holds goldfish in a plastic bag
And the intelligence of goldfish continues to grow apace.
Earlier this year, scientists at the Ben-Gurion University in Israel claimed to have taught a small group of goldfish to drive. Boffins placed the fish inside a Fish Operated Vehicle (FOV) and found they soon learned to steer it towards a target in a small room in order to earn themselves a food pellet. Like all learner drivers, the goldfish became more and more skilled.
Before long, they could even distinguish decoy targets from the real thing.
What next for goldfish? Will we see the first goldfish contestant on Mastermind? Recent contestants on Celebrity Mastermind have picked specialist subjects such as One Direction (radio DJ Sonny Jay), The Third Series Of Sex And The City (TV presenter Myleene Klass) and Geri Halliwell (comedian Ellie Taylor).
It’s hard to imagine that a reasonably bright goldfish couldn’t master something a little more demanding.
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