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A goldfish has successfully driven a robotic car in new research conducted at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. While this sounds fictional, it was an actual experiment to explore animal behavior.

Are animals’ innate navigational abilities universal or are they restricted to their home environments? Taking the premise to the extreme, the researchers designed a set of wheels under a goldfish tank with a camera system to record and translate the fish’s movements into forward and back and side to side directions to the wheels. By doing so, they discovered that a goldfish’s navigational ability supersedes its watery environs.

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The researchers tested whether the fish was really navigating by placing a clearly visible target on the wall opposite the tank. After a few days of training, the fish navigated to the target. Moreover, they were able to do so even if they were interrupted in the middle by hitting a wall and they were not fooled by false targets placed by the researchers.

The study led the researchers to two conclusions.

“The study hints that navigational ability is universal rather than specific to the environment. Second, it shows that goldfish have the cognitive ability to learn a complex task in an environment completely unlike the one they evolved in. As anyone who has tried to learn how to ride a bike or to drive a car knows, it is challenging at first,” said Shachar Givon, a Ph.D. student in the Life Sciences Department in the Faculty of Natural Sciences.

The study was conducted by Givon, Matan Samina, an MSc student in the Biomedical Engineering Department in the Faculty of Engineering Sciences, Prof. Ohad Ben Shahar of the Computer Sciences Department and head of the School of Brain Sciences and Cognition, and Prof. Ronen Segev of the Life Sciences & Biomedical Engineering Departments.

 

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