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Fish and Fear

About two years ago, we put in a fish pond in our backyard. Before that we had a soothing water feature that regularly sprung leaks, ruined our adobe wall, and made a mud bath for the dogs. That soothing water feature became an endless series of frustrating repairs. So, when two new guys came out for the umpteenth time to dig around the back yard to find the leak, we were pretty stressed out.

One guy with long hair in a ponytail drew us pictures of a tranquil spot that would never leak (he was planning on replacing the rocks with concrete). It sounded good.

About 100 days later after delays, disturbances and more and more money, the guys left. And there was a small pond with some plants and fish in it. We were so happy to get rid of the workers (for those of you who spend lots of time working at home you know what I mean), that we celebrated with a barbeque.

Most of the people at the barbeque had horror stories about their own ponds or their neighbors’ ponds that attracted all sorts of lethal insects, mold, algae, leaks,and basically trouble. So, we thought we’d end up with more repair bills and eventually tear the whole thing out.

But the pond surprised us. We try to get up and walk around a few times a day. The pond became a natural place to look. We noticed fish getting bigger, plants and insects adjusting to their new environment. After two years we realize we really like the pond. Really. Although we don’t spend hours staring at it, it’s a quick way to leave the world of words and computers and stand quietly for a minute watching the fish.

The dogs join us. They enthusiastically tear out the back door—go immediately to the pond and the fish either stop moving or dive under a plant. The dogs get bored and wander away. Then the fish come out again, gradually appearing for us to watch. Sometimes the dogs return for a drink or another look. They like to grab a bite of one of the water plants. If they return, the fish again freeze or dash away. As far as we know, the dogs have never tried to or actually caught a fish; there must be some instinctual process that goes on.

Today’s New York Times had an article by Amanda Schaffer about the scent of fear. She discusses recent research published in Current Biology. A neuroscientist in Singapore found that when zebra fish are injured, they release molecules into the water. Fish nearby become alarmed and do what fish do–either take off or freeze. Another new discovery that makes life interesting.

So, I like the thought that fish can smell fear. I think we can too.

Fish and Fear

Laura L. Smith, Ph.D.

Laura L. Smith, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist who specializes in the assessment and treatment of adults and children with obsessive compulsive disorder, as well as personality disorders, depression, anxiety, ADHD, and learning disorders. Dr. Smith is a widely published author of articles and books to the profession and the public, including: Overcoming Anxiety For Dummies (2E), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder For Dummies, Seasonal Affective Disorder For Dummies, Anxiety and Depression Workbook For Dummies, Depression For Dummies, Hollow Kids: Recapturing the Soul of a Generation Lost to the Self-Esteem Myth, and Why Can’t I Be the Parent I Want to Be? Her website is:

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APA Reference
Smith, L. (2012). Fish and Fear. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 21, 2020, from


Last updated: 29 May 2012
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