Internal-Clock Models and Misguided Views of Mechanistic Explanations: A Reply to Eckard & Lattal (2020)

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debatepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Eckard and Lattal’s Perspectives on Behavior Science, 43(1), 5–19 (2020) critique of internal clock (IC) mechanisms is based on narrow concepts of clocks, of their internality, of their mechanistic nature, and of scientific explanations in general. This reply broadens these concepts to characterize all timekeeping objects—physical and otherwise—as clocks, all intrinsic properties of such objects as internal to them, and all simulatable explanations of such properties as mechanisms. Eckard and Lattal’s critique reflects a restrictive billiard-ball view of causation, in which environmental manipulations and behavioral effects are connected by a single chain of contiguous events. In contrast, this reply offers a more inclusive stochastic view of causation, in which environmental manipulations are probabilistically connected to behavioral effects. From either view of causation, computational ICs are hypothetical and unobservable, but their heuristic value and parsimony can only be appreciated from a stochastic view of causation. Billiard-ball and stochastic views have contrasting implications for potential explanations of interval timing. As illustrated by accounts of the variability in start times in fixed-interval schedules of reinforcement, of the two views of causality examined, only the stochastic account supports falsifiable predictions beyond simple replications. It is thus not surprising that the experimental analysis of behavior has progressively adopted a stochastic view of causation, and that it has reaped its benefits. This reply invites experimental behavior analysts to continue on that trajectory.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)779-790
Number of pages12
JournalPerspectives on Behavior Science
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2020


  • Determinism
  • Explanation
  • Induction
  • Internal clock
  • Mechanism
  • Parsimony

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology


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