Goldfish have long been known as a popular pet for children and adults alike. From their bright colors to their unique swimming behaviors, they are a beloved aquatic species. However, there is a common misconception that plagues goldfish owners – the belief that goldfish have a three-second memory. This misconception has led to negative stereotypes and has hindered the proper care of these aquatic pets. In this article, we will be addressing this myth and exploring goldfish memory and behaviors.

goldfish memory
Debunking the myth of a three-second memory goldfish habitat

What is the Origin of the Goldfish Three-Second Memory Claim?

The goldfish three-second memory claim appears to have originated from a mistranslation of a statement made by psychologist Doreen Norton during the 1930s. In her research on fish behavior and learning, Norton stated that fish, including goldfish, were able to retain information for at least three seconds. However, this statement was later misinterpreted as meaning that goldfish had a memory span of only three seconds.

What Does Research Say About Goldfish Memory?

Contrary to the popular myth, goldfish have actually been found to have excellent memories. According to a study by Dr. Kevin Warburton from Australia’s Macquarie University, goldfish are capable of remembering events and learned behaviors for up to five months. This includes spatial memory, such as remembering the location of food, as well as associative learning, such as recognizing and responding to certain stimuli.

In addition, a study published in the journal “Animal Cognition” found that goldfish were able to distinguish between classical music and blues music after just a few listens. The study concluded that goldfish have the ability to recognize different genres of music and make associations between stimuli.

Goldfish Behaviors and Habitat

While goldfish are capable of remembering information and learning new behaviors, their behavior is also influenced by their environment. It is important for goldfish to have a proper habitat that meets their needs for oxygen, water quality, and space.

According to the website of pet supply retailer Petco, goldfish require at least a 20-gallon aquarium for one fish, with an additional 10 gallons per additional fish. They also need adequate filtration and aeration to ensure water quality and oxygenation. Feeding should be done in small amounts once or twice a day to prevent overfeeding and subsequent health problems.

Goldfish are also social creatures that thrive in environments with other goldfish. They exhibit social behaviors such as shoaling, where they form groups and swim together. A proper habitat for goldfish should take into account their social behaviors and provide adequate space for them to interact and swim together.


The goldfish three-second memory myth has long been misunderstood and perpetuated. However, it has been proven untrue through research on goldfish memory and learning. More importantly, proper care and habitat for goldfish should not be based on this myth but on their actual behaviors and needs. Goldfish are intelligent creatures that deserve the right environment and care to thrive in captivity.


– Petco. “Goldfish Care Sheet.”, Petco, accessed 18 Mar. 2021.
– Warburton, Kevin. “Goldfish have a memory-span of at least five months.” The Conversation, 16 Jul. 2013,

Further reading

– Bshary, Redouan, and Silvio Bshary. “Fish cognition: a primate’s eye view.” Animal Cognition, vol. 18, no.1, 2015, pp. 1-14.
– Salas, Carlos, and Ignacio Carrilo. “Goldfish.” Encyclopedia of Animal Behavior, vol. 2, Academic Press, 2019, pp. 192-199.

By Peter

5 thoughts on “The Three-Second Memory Myth: Debunking a Misconception About Goldfish”
  1. It’s important to note that goldfish, like any other pet, have their own specific needs and care requirements. Aside from providing a proper aquarium and space, goldfish owners also need to be mindful of their feeding habits and avoid overfeeding to prevent health problems. Additionally, regular water changes and filtration are crucial for maintaining water quality and keeping goldfish healthy.

  2. Thank you for shedding light on the myth that goldfish have a three-second memory. It’s interesting to know that they have excellent memories and can remember events for up to five months. Another factor to consider is their environment as it affects their behavior. It’s good to know that they are social creatures and require adequate space to swim and interact with other goldfish.

    1. Thank you for your comment. It’s great to see that you found the information interesting and informative. You’re absolutely right that the environment plays a significant role in the behavior of goldfish, and it’s crucial to provide them with adequate space and conditions to thrive.

  3. This article provides valuable information debunking the misconception surrounding goldfish’s memory span. As important as this myth is, there is even more that goldfish owners need to know about taking care of their pets. For example, many people believe that goldfish can live in bowls or small tanks, but in reality, they require much more space, oxygen, and water filtration. It is also important to avoid overfeeding goldfish, which can lead to health problems. Proper care and habitat are essential to ensuring the well-being of these intelligent creatures.

    1. Thank you for sharing this additional information about goldfish care. It is important to debunk all myths and provide accurate information for pet owners to ensure that their pets lead healthy and happy lives.

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