Professor trains goldfish to recognise objects

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Yet even more evidence to quash the absurd three second memory myth that still abounds. Check out the video too!

An assistant professor of psychology at Rochester Institute of Technology has focused her research on object discrimination in goldfish, and echolocation in dolphins in an effort to unlock the mysteries of animal perception and cognition. Caroline DeLong’s theory is that marine animals – from dolphins to the humble goldfish – might well recognise and represent objects in a similar way to us humans – something known as object constancy.

DeLong started a new line of research on visual object recognition using goldfish, and students are able to be directly involved with the training of lab animals. Goldfish were trained by first getting them used to feeding from a syringe, and then by adding a single shape to the environment, in this case a black circle. When the goldfish interacted with the shape a food reward was offered from the syringe.

The next step was to add another shape alongside the original black circle, a black rectangle, to determine the response. When presented with a choice, the goldfish still chose the black circle, and gained its reward. DeLong and her students will investigate whether fish perform the same as humans, pigeons or monkeys in tests of object constancy.

"Since I was a child, I have been fascinated by how animals communicate and view the world," she says. "If I could magically view the world through a dolphin's eyes for a day, I would. Humans view the world using our own sensory systems, and it's amazing to begin to learn how all these different animals view their world using their own sensory systems."

DeLong has been studying animals for about 20 years. Research by DeLong and other scientists on echolocation, or biological sonar, can help engineers create advanced software and hardware capable of underwater object recognition. Biomimetic sonar systems, based on the structure and function of animal sonar systems, outperform traditional manmade sonar systems.

"Learning about cognitive processes that dolphins engage in during echolocation can help the Navy or NASA to build a superior biomimetic system," DeLong says.

See the video for a practical demonstration by Poseidon the goldfish.