Mice plan decision strategies based on previously learned time intervals, locations, and probabilities

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2016 Jan 19;113(3):787-92. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1518316113. Epub 2016 Jan 5.


Animals can shape their timed behaviors based on experienced probabilistic relations in a nearly optimal fashion. On the other hand, it is not clear if they adopt these timed decisions by making computations based on previously learnt task parameters (time intervals, locations, and probabilities) or if they gradually develop their decisions based on trial and error. To address this question, we tested mice in the timed-switching task, which required them to anticipate when (after a short or long delay) and at which of the two delay locations a reward would be presented. The probability of short trials differed between test groups in two experiments. Critically, we first trained mice on relevant task parameters by signaling the active trial with a discriminative stimulus and delivered the corresponding reward after the associated delay without any response requirement (without inducing switching behavior). During the test phase, both options were presented simultaneously to characterize the emergence and temporal characteristics of the switching behavior. Mice exhibited timed-switching behavior starting from the first few test trials, and their performance remained stable throughout testing in the majority of the conditions. Furthermore, as the probability of the short trial increased, mice waited longer before switching from the short to long location (experiment 1). These behavioral adjustments were in directions predicted by reward maximization. These results suggest that rather than gradually adjusting their time-dependent choice behavior, mice abruptly adopted temporal decision strategies by directly integrating their previous knowledge of task parameters into their timed behavior, supporting the model-based representational account of temporal risk assessment.

Keywords: decision making; interval timing; mice; probabilities; temporal risk assessment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Decision Making*
  • Learning*
  • Mice
  • Models, Neurological
  • Probability*
  • Reaction Time
  • Time Factors