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Smart Fish Don't Have 'Tunnel Vision'

Nov 11, 2014 04:19 PM EST
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Researchers have determined that many fish, like the relatively tiny zebrafish, are actually very good at focusing on multiple objects simultaneously, understanding what they are seeing and interacting with these objects in displays that contradict the popular impression of a "three-second memory."
(Photo : wiki CC0)

Researchers have determined that many fish, like the relatively tiny zebrafish, are actually very good at focusing on multiple objects simultaneously, understanding what they are seeing and interacting with these objects in displays that contradict the popular impression of a "three-second memory."

Evidence that fish are a lot more intelligent than we once believed has been piling up in recent years, with Nature World News reporting on a great many of these discoveries. Researchers have determined that fish feel pain much like we do, and even boast differing personalities that influence how likely they are to get caught on an angler's hook.

It was even recently determined that territorial fish can tell the difference between their reflection and an actual rival, indicating that many older studies of fish behavior may be wrong.

In the latest of these revealing works, researchers found that fish boast "parallel vision search" - the ability to pick out one object among many, meaning they might be some effective "Where's Waldo" players swimming in our oceans.

The study, which was published in the journal PLOS One, details how 11 adult zebrafish were presented with different visual stimuli, in the form of different colored circles on a computer monitor, over a period of 144 hours. The fish were taught to associate food with a red disk, and then placed that disk among other distracting disks.

No matter how many items the researchers added to the scene to distract the fish, they had no problem identifying the red disk at the same speed every time.

"Although vision seems simple and quick, it involves a lot of computational power to figure out where things are in a crowded environment," lead study author Michael Proulx said in a statement. "It is incredible to discover that the zebrafish brain, with its small size and simple structure, can seemingly find a target visually without getting slower."

Co-author Matthew Parker added that this indicated that the zebrafish were far from reaching their intellectual limit for assessing and understanding their environment.

"Fish don't deserve their reputation as the stupid branch of the animal family tree," he said. "The more research we do, the more we find out that they are capable of quite complex learning and problem solving."

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