The influence of multiple temporal memories in the peak-interval procedure

Learn Behav. 2015 Jun;43(2):153-62. doi: 10.3758/s13420-015-0169-y.


Memories for when an event has occurred are used to anticipate future occurrences of the event, but what happens when the event is equally likely to occur at two different times? In this study, one group of rats was always reinforced at 21 s on the peak-interval procedure (21-only group), whereas another group of rats was reinforced at either 8 or 21 s, which varied daily (8-21 group). At the beginning of each session, the behavior of the 8-21 group largely lacked temporal control, but by the end of the session, temporal control was reestablished. When both groups were reinforced at 21 s, the patterns of responding were indistinguishable after subjects in the 8-21 group had experienced 13 reinforcement trials. Finally, the reinforcement times of previous sessions affected the 8-21 group, such that subjects were biased depending on the reinforcement time of the prior session. These results show that when the reinforcement time is initially ambiguous, rats respond in a way that combines their expectations of both possibilities; then they incrementally adjust their responding as they receive more information, but still information from prior sessions biases their initial expectation for the reinforcement time. Combined, these results imply that rats are sensitive to the age of encoded temporal memories in an environment in which the reinforcement time is variable. How these results inform the scalar expectancy theory, the currently accepted model of interval-timing behavior, is discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Conditioning, Operant
  • Discrimination Learning*
  • Memory*
  • Rats
  • Reinforcement Schedule
  • Time Perception*