Goldfish Can Distinguish Between The Music Of Bach And Stravinsky; Can You? [STUDY]

By Josh Lieberman on September 3, 2013 11:53 AM EDT

goldfish
Japanese researchers trained goldfish to react when a certain piece of music was played. The fish did so correctly 75 percent of the time. (Photo: Reuters)

Goldfish may appreciate classical music more than you do, according to Japanese researchers. In a new study out of Keio University in Tokyo, researchers found that goldfish are able to distinguish between the music of Johann Sebastian Bach and Igor Stravinsky (something you probably can't do). The findings appear in the October issue of Behavioural Processes.

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In the study, researchers trained four goldfish to bite on a red bead when they heard 20-second clips of Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. Four goldfish were also trained to bite on a red bead upon hearing Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. The fish received a pellet of food for tugging on the string during the piece of music assigned them.

After the slow-learning goldfish were trained -- it took 100 of these training sessions -- the researchers tested the goldfish's musical connoisseurship. Over three different sessions, the researchers found that the goldfish bit the red bead 75 percent of the time during "their song," and that they didn't react during the other song.

"We can conclude that goldfish discriminate between Bach's and Stravinsky's music," said study lead author Kazutaka Shinozuka. "Of course music is artificial stimuli made by humans, so music itself does not have specific meaning for goldfish. But music consists of complex acoustic features. Ability to discriminate such complex auditory stimuli might be beneficial for fish in an evolutionary sense."

Shinozuka and his team also played other pieces by Bach and Stravinksy to see if it elicited any response from the trained goldfish. It did not. The researchers speculated that the goldfish might be able to recognize a new piece by a composer if they had been trained with numerous pieces by that composer. A separate experiment in the study found that the goldfish didn't seem to show a preference between Bach and Stravinksy.

The study suggest that goldfish may not be such unintelligent creatures, and that their memories are better than they're popularly thought to be. Many people believe that goldfish memories only last three seconds, a myth that has been dispelled on several occasions. A 2004 episode of MythBusters tested the three-second theory by training a goldfish to navigate an obstacle course; a month later, the goldfish was still able to do so. And in 2009, researchers in Israel trained goldfish to respond to a certain sound during feeding time. The goldfish were then released into the sea, and when scientists played the "dinner bell" sound four to five months later, the fish returned.

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