Rats trained on a dual-duration, dual-modality peak-interval procedure (e.g., tone = 10 s/light = 20 s) often show unimodal response distributions with peaks that fall in between the anchor durations when both cues are presented as a simultaneous compound. Two hypotheses can explain this finding. According to the averaging hypothesis, rats integrate the anchor durations into an average during compound trials, with each duration being weighted by its respective reinforcement probability. According to the simultaneous temporal processing hypothesis, rats time both durations veridically and simultaneously during compound trials and respond continuously across both durations, thereby producing a unimodal response distribution with a peak falling in between the anchor durations. In the present compounding experiment, rats were trained to associate a tone and light with two different durations (e.g., 5 and 20 s, respectively). However, in contrast to previous experiments, each cue was also associated with a distinct response requirement (e.g., left nosepoke for tone/right nosepoke for light). On the majority of compound trials, responding on a given nosepoke fell close to its respective duration, but was shifted in the direction of the other cue's duration, suggesting rats timed an average of the two durations. However, more weight appeared to be given to the duration associated with the manipulandum on which the rat responded, rather than the duration associated with a higher reinforcement probability as predicted by the averaging hypothesis. Group differences were also observed, with rats trained to associate the tone and light with the short and long durations, respectively, being more likely to show these shifts than the counterbalanced modality-duration group (i.e., light-short/tone-long). This parallels group differences observed in past studies and suggest that cue weighting in response to stimulus compounds is influenced by the modality-duration relationship of the anchor cues. The current results suggest that temporal averaging is a more flexible process than previously theorized and provide novel insight into the mechanisms that affect cue weighting.
Keywords: Interval timing; Simultaneous temporal processing; Stimulus compounding; Temporal averaging; Time perception.