Interval timing under a behavioral microscope: Dissociating motivational and timing processes in fixed-interval performance

Carter W. Daniels, Federico Sanabria

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


The distribution of latencies and interresponse times (IRTs) of rats was compared between two fixed-interval (FI) schedules of food reinforcement (FI 30 s and FI 90 s), and between two levels of food deprivation. Computational modeling revealed that latencies and IRTs were well described by mixture probability distributions embodying two-state Markov chains. Analysis of these models revealed that only a subset of latencies is sensitive to the periodicity of reinforcement, and prefeeding only reduces the size of this subset. The distribution of IRTs suggests that behavior in FI schedules is organized in bouts that lengthen and ramp up in frequency with proximity to reinforcement. Prefeeding slowed down the lengthening of bouts and increased the time between bouts. When concatenated, latency and IRT models adequately reproduced sigmoidal FI response functions. These findings suggest that behavior in FI schedules fluctuates in and out of schedule control; an account of such fluctuation suggests that timing and motivation are dissociable components of FI performance. These mixture-distribution models also provide novel insights on the motivational, associative, and timing processes expressed in FI performance. These processes may be obscured, however, when performance in timing tasks is analyzed in terms of mean response rates.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)29-48
Number of pages20
JournalLearning and Behavior
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2017


  • Bouts
  • Computational modeling
  • Fixed-interval
  • Interval timing
  • Motivation
  • Pre-feeding
  • Rats
  • Response duration

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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