A new study suggests that goldfish not only listen to music but are able to discern various composers from one another. Discovery Magazine summarizes:
For the study, published in the journal Behavioural Processes, Shinozuka and colleagues Haruka Ono and Shigeru Watanabe played two pieces of classical music near goldfish in a tank. The pieces were Toccata and Fugue in D minor by Johann Sebastian Bach and The Rite of Spring by Igor Stravinsky.
The scientists trained the fish to gnaw on a little bead hanging on a filament in the water. Half of the fish were trained with food to gnaw whenever Bach played and the other half were taught to gnaw whenever Stravinsky music was on. The goldfish aced the test, easily distinguishing the two composers and getting a belly full of food in the process.
This is an example of auditory discrimination. From the paper’s abstract:
This paper investigated whether music has reinforcing and discriminative stimulus properties in goldfish. Experiment 1 examined the discriminative stimulus properties of music. The subjects were successfully trained to discriminate between two pieces of music – Toccata and Fugue in D minor (BWV 565) by J. S. Bach and The Rite of Spring by I. Stravinsky. Experiment 2 examined the reinforcing properties of sounds, including BWV 565 and The Rite of Spring. We developed an apparatus for measuring spontaneous sound preference in goldfish. Music or noise stimuli were presented depending on the subject’s position in the aquarium, and the time spent in each area was measured. The results indicated that the goldfish did not show consistent preferences for music, although they showed significant avoidance of noise stimuli. These results suggest that music has discriminative but not reinforcing stimulus properties in goldfish.