Science Tuesday: Musical Goldfish

No one ever thought they would have a preference but…/PHOTO VIA Flickr user protographer23

By Christina Janansky
@cjanansky

Music — the “universal language” — may be a little more universal than once thought.

In a September 2 article published in Discovery News, Kazutaka Shinozuka of Keio University’s Department of Psychology described his research on animals’ understanding of music. With help from his colleagues, Shinozuka revealed that goldfish not only enjoy listening to music, but also have the ability to distinguish between different composers.

The implications of this new study supplement earlier research on animals’ understanding of music. Now researchers believe that, perhaps, more animal species possess similar capabilities, as well as their own musical preferences.

In the study — originally published in the journal Behavioural Processes — Shinozuka and fellow researchers, Haruka Ono and Shigeru Watanabe, conditioned fish using two classical songs: Johann Sebastion Bach’s Toccato and Fugue in D minor, and Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring.

During feeding time, goldfish were trained to nibble on a bead-filament contraption in the water, based on whichever song was playing nearby the fish tank. While one half of the fish gnawed on the bead during Bach’s song, the other was conditioned to gnaw on the bead during only Stravinsky’s piece. Using this method, the goldfish were eventually able to accurately — and easily — distinguish between the two composers.

Even more surprising: Goldfish actually developed a preference in listening to the two songs. It appeared that goldfish — similarly to birds in earlier studies — preferred classical music (Bach) to modern music (Stravinsky). Researchers, however, are not quite sure why, though it may involve the higher dissonance present in modern music.

So if you’re a total rebel and have a pet goldfish in your dorm room, remember: Keep it classical.

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