The ability to estimate the passage of time is essential for adaptive behavior in complex environments. Yet, it is not known how the brain encodes time over the durations necessary to explain animal behavior. Under temporally structured reinforcement schedules, animals tend to develop temporally structured behavior, and interval timing has been suggested to be accomplished by learning sequences of behavioral states. If this is true, trial to trial fluctuations in behavioral sequences should be predictive of fluctuations in time estimation. We trained rodents in an duration categorization task while continuously monitoring their behavior with a high speed camera. Animals developed highly reproducible behavioral sequences during the interval being timed. Moreover, those sequences were often predictive of perceptual report from early in the trial, providing support to the idea that animals may use learned behavioral patterns to estimate the duration of time intervals. To better resolve the issue, we propose that continuous and simultaneous behavioral and neural monitoring will enable identification of neural activity related to time perception that is not explained by ongoing behavior.
Keywords: choice probability; decision making; embodied cognition; interval timing; perceptual decision making; time perception.