Basic mechanisms of interval timing and associative learning are shared by many animal species, and develop quickly in early life, particularly across infancy, and childhood. Indeed, John Wearden in his book “The Psychology of Time Perception”, which is based on decades of his own research with colleagues, and which our commentary serves to primarily review, has been instrumental in implementing animal models and methods in children and adults, and has revealed important similarities (and differences) between human timing (and that of animals) when considered within the context of scalar timing theory. These seminal studies provide a firm foundation upon which the contemporary multifaceted field of timing and time perception has since advanced. The contents of the book are arguably one piece of a larger puzzle, and as Wearden cautions, “The reader is warned that my own contribution to the field has been exaggerated here, but if you are not interested in your own work, why would anyone else be?” Surely there will be many interested readers, however the book is noticeably lacking in it neurobiological perspective. The mind (however it is conceived) needs a brain (even if behaviorists tend to say “the brain behaves”, and most neuroscientists currently have a tenuous grasp on the neural mechanisms of temporal cognition), and to truly understand the psychology of time, brain and behavior must go hand in hand regardless of the twists, turns, and detours along the way.
Discriminative fear conditioning requires learning to dissociate between safety cues and cues that predict negative outcomes yet little is known about what processes contribute to discriminative fear learning. According to attentional models of time perception, processes that distract from timing result in temporal underestimation. If discriminative fear learning only requires learning what cues predict what outcomes, and threatening stimuli distract attention from timing, then better discriminative fear learning should predict greater temporal distortion on threat trials. Alternatively, if discriminative fear learning also reflects a more accurate perceptual experience of time in threatening contexts, discriminative fear learning scores would predict less temporal distortion on threat trials, as time is perceived more veridically. Healthy young adults completed discriminative fear conditioning in which they learned to associate one stimulus (CS+) with aversive electrical stimulation and another stimulus (CS−) with non-aversive tactile stimulation and then an ordinal-comparison timing task during which CSs were presented as task-irrelevant distractors. Consistent with predictions, we found an overall temporal underestimation bias on CS+ relative to CS− trials. Differential skin conductance responses to the CS+ versus the CS− during conditioning served as a physiological index of discriminative fear conditioning and this measure predicted the magnitude of the underestimation bias, such that individuals exhibiting greater discriminative fear conditioning showed less underestimation on CS+ versus CS− trials. These results are discussed with respect to the nature of discriminative fear learning and the relationship between temporal distortions and maladaptive threat processing in anxiety.
Interval timing behavior and its sensitivity to both temporal context and changes in dopamine (DA) levels has recently received considerable attention. Nevertheless, the exact manner in which those interactions occur is far from clear. We examined temporal reproduction with feedback in the supra-seconds range as a function of DA levels using two well-studied timing procedures. Healthy young and aged participants were studied as well as Parkinson’s disease (PD) patients tested ON and OFF their dopaminergic medication. The findings confirm the hypothesis that the ‘migration effect’ (e.g., ‘short’ durations are over-produced and ‘long’ durations are under-produced) in PD patients and the closely related Vierordt’s effect are largely influenced by the effective level of DA and in the case of the ‘migration effect’ by the probability of feedback as well. Using a Bayesian model seeking optimal timing under conditions of uncertainty, we were able to accurately simulate the distorted patterns of temporal reproduction in all groups of participants. As DA levels decrease across groups, optimal timing behavior shifts towards a greater reliance on a statistical representation of all of the durations reproduced within a specific temporal context rather than on the representation of a single duration being timed on any one trial. This analysis demonstrates the utility of Bayesian models of interval timing and highlights the importance of DA levels on clock speed and the associated uncertainty that contributes to temporal distortions.
Male Sprague–Dawley rats were exposed to social defeat and subordination by aggressive male Long–Evans rats. The social defeat procedure involved the continuous exposure to an aggressive resident for 10 days, while living in a protective cage within the resident’s home cage with daily brief confrontations. These stress experiences resulted in 1) reduced body weight; 2) decreased social interaction; 3) increased ultrasonic vocalizations; 4) reduced sucrose preference (anhedonia); and 5) decreased clock speed while timing 15-s and 45-s target durations in a bi-peak procedure. Treatment with ketamine (15 mg/kg, i.p.) produced a rapid reversal of anhedonia and overproduction of duration. Taken together, these data provide the first evaluation of the effects of continuous social defeat and its associated depression-like symptoms on timing and time perception using a ‘state change’ design.
Bilateral intratympanic sodium arsenate injections (100 mg/ml in isotonic saline) in adult male Long Evans rats produced impairments in allocentric navigation using a 12-arm radial maze procedure as well as a motor test battery designed to evaluate vestibular function. In contrast, no impairments in the accuracy or precision of duration reproduction using 20-s and 80-s peak-interval procedures were observed when both target durations were associated with the same lever response, but distinguished by signal modality (e.g., light or sound). In contrast, an ordinal-reproduction procedure with 800, 3200, and 12,800 ms standards requiring the timing of self-initiated movements during the production phase revealed large impairments in the accuracy and precision of timing for vestibular lesioned rats. These impairments were greater on trials in which self-initiated body movements (e.g., holding down the response lever for a fixed duration) were required without the support of external stimuli signaling the onset and offset of the reproduced duration in contrast to trials in which such external support was provided. The conclusion is that space and time are separable entities and not simply the product of a generalized system, but they can be integrated into a common metric using gravity and self-initiated movement as a reference.
Although fear-producing treatments (e.g., electric shock) and pleasure-inducing treatments (e.g., methamphetamine) have different emotional valences, they both produce physiological arousal and lead to effects on timing and time perception that have been interpreted as reflecting an increase in speed of an internal clock. In this commentary, we review the results reported by Fayolle et al. (2015): Behav. Process., 120, 135–140) and Meck (1983: J. Exp. Psychol. Anim. Behav. Process., 9, 171–201) using electric shock and by Maricq et al. (1981: J. Exp. Psychol. Anim. Behav. Process., 7, 18–30) using methamphetamine in a duration-bisection procedure across multiple duration ranges. The psychometric functions obtained from this procedure relate the proportion ‘long’ responses to signal durations spaced between a pair of ‘short’ and ‘long’ anchor durations. Horizontal shifts in these functions can be described in terms of attention or arousal processes depending upon whether they are a fixed number of seconds independent of the timed durations (additive) or proportional to the durations being timed (multiplicative). Multiplicative effects are thought to result from a change in clock speed that is regulated by dopamine activity in the medial prefrontal cortex. These dopaminergic effects are discussed within the context of the striatal beat frequency model of interval timing (Matell & Meck, 2004: Cogn. Brain Res., 21, 139–170) and clinical implications for the effects of emotional reactivity on temporal cognition (Parker et al., 2013: Front. Integr. Neurosci., 7, 75).
The overlap of neural circuits involved in episodic memory, relational learning, trace conditioning, and interval timing suggests the importance of hippocampal-dependent processes. Identifying the functional and neural mechanisms whereby the hippocampus plays a role in timing and decision-making, however, has been elusive. In this article we describe recent neurobiological findings, including the discovery of hippocampal ‘time cells’, dependency of duration discriminations in the minutes range on hippocampal function, and the correlation of hippocampal theta rhythm with specific features of temporal processing. These results provide novel insights into the ways in which the hippocampus might interact with the striatum in order to support both retrospective and prospective timing. Suggestions are also provided for future research on the role of the hippocampus in memory for elapsed time.
Animals, including fish, birds, rodents, non-human primates, and pre-verbal infants are able to discriminate the duration and number of events without the use of language. In this paper, we present the results of six experiments exploring the capability of adult rats to count 2–6 sequentially presented white-noise stimuli. The investigation focuses on the animal’s ability to exhibit spontaneous subtraction following the presentation of novel stimulus inversions in the auditory signals being counted. Results suggest that a subtraction operation between two opposite sensory representations may be a general processing strategy used for the comparison of stimulus magnitudes. These findings are discussed within the context of a mode-control model of timing and counting that relies on an analog temporal-integration process for the addition and subtraction of sequential events.