Goldfish taught to appreciate classical music

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Goldfish have a fine ear for music, according to the latest example of the kind of research that provokes the question "they got a grant for that?". It seems that the fish trapped in that glass bowl can differentiate between classical composers.

Researchers found that fish responded differently according to whether they were listening to symphonies by Bach or Stravinsky. They missed a trick by not playing them the music of Goldie or Fish from Marillion, but that may have been on humanitarian grounds. Handel's Water Music might have been worth a try though. Or Fleetwood Mackerel.

Fish would respond by biting on a bead suspended on a line when they recognised the music. What does this tell us about fish? Difficult to say, although the head of the research project Professor Sigeru Watanabe from Keio University in Tokyo, seemed to find it exciting.

"Psychologically, music can be considered to have two types of properties: discriminative stimulus properties and reinforcing properties," the professor said. "These properties are apparent in humans, because we can easily recognise and enjoy a variety of types of music. Several studies have investigated whether these properties of music exist in non-human animals."

Goldfish were chosen as the test subjects for the rather obvious reason that they can hear. The latest results suggest that they can also discriminate subtle variations in sound. "This suggests that goldfish have evolved specific features for hearing and can recognise complex auditory stimuli similar to those recognised by modern vertebrates," Professor Watanabe said.

There also seemed to be some evidence of subjective taste. Some fish preferred Stravinsky while other went for Bach. "For those subjects, the musical stimuli might have a certain kind of reinforcing properties, although it was not consistent among individuals," the professor suggested.

The study will continue once the funding comes through for researchers to win a few more goldfish at the nearest fairground.

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