Response rates track the history of reinforcement times26 September 2011
When conditioning involves a consistent temporal relationship between the conditioned stimulus (CS) and unconditioned stimulus (US), the expression of conditioned responses within a trial peaks at the usual time of the US relative to the CS. Here we examine the temporal profile of responses during conditioning with variable CS-US intervals. We conditioned stimuli with either uniformly distributed or exponentially distributed random CS-US intervals. In the former case, the frequency of each CS-US interval within a specified range is uniform but the momentary probability of the US (the hazard function) increases as time elapses during the trial; with the latter distribution, short CS-US intervals are more frequent than longer intervals, but the momentary probability of the US is constant across time within the trial. We report that, in a magazine approach paradigm, rats’ response rates remained stable as time elapses during the CS when the CS-US intervals were uniformly distributed, whereas their response rates declined when the CS-US intervals were exponentially distributed. In other words, the profile of responding during the CS matched the frequency distribution of the US times, not the momentary probability of the US during the CS. These results are inconsistent with real-time associative models, which predict that associative strength tracks the momentary probability of the US, but may provide support for timing models of conditioning in which conditioned responding is tied to remembered times of reinforcement.