, Volume 23, Issue 4, pp 376-382

Reinforcement context and pacemaker rate in the behavioral theory of timing

Abstract

In the present experiment, an attempt was made to extend the base of evidence for the assumption of the behavioral theory of timing that pacemaker rate is determined by reinforcement rate. Pigeons discriminated the first half from the second half of a 50-sec trial in a free-operant psychophysical procedure. Left-key responding was reinforced at variable intervals during the first 25 sec, and right-key responding was reinforced at variable intervals during the second 25 sec. The rate of “extraneous” reinforcers delivered at variable intervals following responses to a center key was manipulated independently of performance in the temporal discrimination. Quantitative estimates of pacemaker rate were not directly proportional to extraneous rate of reinforcement, whether extraneous reinforcers were available during the intertrial interval, the entire session, or the trial only. Instead, estimates of pacemaker rate were inversely related to the rate of extraneous reinforcement, which suggests that pacemaker rate is determined by the ratio of the rate of reinforcement for the timing response relative to other sources of reinforcement.

This research was supported by grants from the New Zealand University Grants Committee and the University of Otago to K.G.W. and by a University of Otago Postgraduate Award to L.A.B. The authors thank John Wixted for the nonlinear least-squares regression procedure and Peter Killeen for many helpful comments. We would also like to thank Russell Church and Gregor Fetterman for their constructive review comments.