Animal Cognition

, Volume 13, Issue 2, pp 303–309 | Cite as

Trace classical conditioning in rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss): what do they learn?

  • Janicke NordgreenEmail author
  • Andrew Michael Janczak
  • Anne Lene Hovland
  • Birgit Ranheim
  • Tor Einar Horsberg
Original Paper


There are two main memory systems: declarative and procedural memory. Knowledge of these two systems in fish is scarce, and controlled laboratory studies are needed. Trace classical conditioning is an experimentally tractable model of declarative memory. We tested whether rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) can learn by trace conditioning and form stimulus–stimulus, as opposed to stimulus–response, associations. We predicted that rainbow trout trained by trace conditioning would show appetitive behaviour (conditioned response; CR) towards the conditioned stimulus (CS; light), and that the CR would be sensitive to devaluation of the unconditioned stimulus (US; food). The learning group (L, N = 14) was trained on a CS + US contingency schedule with a trace interval of 3.4 s. The control group (CtrL, N = 4) was kept on a completely random schedule. The fish that learnt were further trained as either an experimental (L, N = 6) or a memory control (CtrM, N = 3) group. The L group had the US devalued. The CtrM group received only food. No fish in the CtrL group, but nine fish from the L group conditioned to the light. When tested, five L fish changed their CRs after US devaluation, indicating learning by stimulus–stimulus association of the light with the food. CtrM fish retained their original CRs. To the best of our knowledge, this experiment is the first to show that rainbow trout can learn by trace classical conditioning. The results indicate that the fish learnt by ‘facts-learning’ rather than by reflex acquisition in this study.


Rainbow trout Classical conditioning Declarative Semantic Learning Oncorhynchus mykiss 



We wish to thank Victoria Braithwaite for advising us on the experimental set-up. We are grateful to three anonymous referees for comments on the manuscript. This experiment was financially supported by the Norwegian Research Council, Grant no. 159667/S40, and the Norwegian School of Veterinary Science. It complies with the Norwegian regulation on animal experimentation.

Supplementary material

S1: The video clip shows a fish from the CtrL group tested in the learning test. The fish is positioned in the tank to the right, in the left corner of the close zone. It remains there, unresponsive throughout the test. (MPG 2992 kb)

S2: The video clip shows a fish from the L group tested in the learning test. The fish is positioned in the tank to the left. When the CS is turned off, the fish swims towards the feeder and enters the close zone. (MPG 4238 kb)

S3: The video clip shows the same fish from the L group as in S2, tested in the devaluation test. The fish no longer approaches the feeder in the close zone, but remains unresponsive at the border between the far and close zone. (MPG 4420 kb)

S4: The video clip shows a CtrM fish tested in the devaluation test. The fish is positioned in the tank to the right, in the close zone under the feeder. When the CS is turned off, the fish shows increased activity under the feeder directed towards the feeder. (MPG 3162 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Janicke Nordgreen
    • 1
    Email author
  • Andrew Michael Janczak
    • 2
  • Anne Lene Hovland
    • 3
  • Birgit Ranheim
    • 1
  • Tor Einar Horsberg
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Pharmacology and ToxicologyThe Norwegian School of Veterinary ScienceOsloNorway
  2. 2.Department of Production Animal Clinical SciencesThe Norwegian School of Veterinary ScienceOsloNorway
  3. 3.Department of Animal and Aquacultural SciencesNorwegian University of Life SciencesAasNorway

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