Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Pavlov’s Fish - Black Sea Bass Get 'Sound' Training

No bait necessary for these fish - scientists at Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory in Massachusetts are training fish to catch themselves.

Using classical conditioning, the team of researchers is busy training fish to voluntarily swim to an underwater cage so they can be caught and sold.

Just like Ivan Pavlov taught dogs to associate the sound of a bell with dinner, and come salivating to the table, these researchers are training fish to associate dinner time with a tone.

The team has even received a $270,000 grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to fund their project.

Black sea bass are a crucial source of the world’s seafood and to reduce the cost of farming them, the fish would ideally roam the open seas to feed and grow until being called back to the cage to be put up on the chopping block.

Recently Simon Miner, a research assistant at Wood's Hole, showed that fish learned to enter a partially closed feeding area in their tank when he sounded a tone for 20 seconds. Three times a day for two weeks he made the sound before he put food in the feeding area.

The fish learned the sound meant food was ready.

It works much the way with my newfie. It didn't take her too long to learn the tell-tale sound of a fork scraping the plate meant she'd soon be licking it.

And, in classic Pavlovian fashion, she now drools reliably at the sound. ((Or course, being a newfie she drools at just about anything!))

So say you, too, wish to create some remote-control fish — how do you do it?

You need 2 things, plus good timing:
1) A stimulus that automatically, instinctively, reflexively produces the behavior you want. These are called the "unconditioned stimulus" and the "unconditioned response."
2) A stimulus the individual can easily attend to but doesn't have an automatic response to. This can be a bell, a clicker, or something visual.

Make the sound then immediately show the unconditioned stimulus. You want the individual to be able to predict what follows the sound - that's why it comes first. You don't want too much time to pass in between the two. And, you don't want to produce them at the same time - you want one to be a useful predictor for the other.


DancingFish said...

Although it is an interesting idea, I doubt the training would last through their growth period. I'd love a link to a publication for this!

Field Notes said...

Yeah, me too - but they haven't published yet.

Waterrose said...

this is why I visit your blog...such interesting information!

~Stella said...

Why doesn't this work with human toddlers?

Unknown said...

I just discovered your blog and I've enjoyed it very much.

We have much in common. I have 2 crazy dogs, an 11-year-old Sheltie who does animal-assisted therapy with me and Bartlet, a Malinois dude! I also have a parrot sitting on my shoulder as I type this (way past his bed time).

I'm also very much interested in primate behavior, although I'm rather a lay person rather than an academic. I'm particularly interested in in the ape language research (as well as new scientific research on canine communication).

I also enjoy beading. I was very impressed with your art, particularly your primate drawings.

I look forward to reading future blogs!

KieutiePie said...

This is totally normal. People think it's amazing that fish can learn or something. =}

I've kept fish for years, and I assure you that they can learn. Lots of pet tropical fish are not actually top feeders - they eat food from the middle or bottom areas of water. We give them commercial foods on the top though, and soon enough they learn to go up there for food.

I feed my fish when I wake up. I turn on the light, and immediately they start to swarm the top, waiting for their meal. Soon, they swarm the top every time you walk near.

There are cichlids out there that are super smart as well - I've even heard of one learning to play "catch" - the owner could toss a ball in, and it'd hit the ball back out towards the owner. This is an actual bony fish, not a mammal.

I once trained my hamster to come out of her cage to get a biscuit so that I could still give her treats even though she was with her babies. She picked it up fast. =}

I set an alarm on my phone to remember to feed my doggy at the same time every night. Every time that alarm goes off, he starts dancing around the house, but first finds the phone because I grab the phone BEFORE I will feed him.

The cat - she's nuts. She knows feeding time somehow without any cues. ANY time you decide as her feeding time - she starts crying about one hour earlier constantly. I've tried moving her feeding times even, and she always starts 1-2 hours beforehand. She's got an internal kitchen timer, not clock!