Fish Tank Provides Golden Lessons

Goldfish dumb? No way, say hands-on behavior analysis graduate students who train them and treat them in Florida Tech’s aquatic operant conditioning lab, where goldfish learn behaviors through reinforcement. In the cobalt blue operant tank, students use a food wand to draw the fish to a soccer ball. Soon the fishes associate the wand and food with the ball, nosing the ball along for their reward. You might say the fish jump through hoops for their mentors. They’re taught to swim through the hoops extremely fast—at least seven times a minute. Once through the hoop, the red light goes on, cueing the fish that a food pellet is in the offing. The fish races toward the light, trying to catch the pellet before it sinks. These goldfish athletics provide data for Dr. Josh Pritchard’s students as they learn behavioral principles through hands-on experience. This may take some patience, but training goldfish is fun for the students as well as healthy exercise and a free meal for the goldfish. It’s a win-win for all.