Timing for the absence of a stimulus: the gap paradigm reversed.
Contrary to data showing sensitivity to nontemporal properties of timed signals, current theories of interval timing assume that animals can use the presence or absence of a signal as equally valid cues as long as duration is the most predictive feature. Consequently, the authors examined rats' behavior when timing the absence of a visual or auditory stimulus in trace conditioning and in a "reversed" gap procedure. Memory for timing was tested by presenting the stimulus as a reversed gap into its timed absence. Results suggest that in trace conditioning (Experiment 1), rats time for the absence of a stimulus by using its offset as a time marker. As in the standard gap procedure, the insertion of a reversed gap was expected to "stop" rats' internal clock. In contrast, a reversed gap of 1-, 5-, or 15-s duration "reset" the timing process in both trace conditioning (Experiment 2) and the reversed gap procedure (Experiment 3). A direct comparison of the standard and reversed gap procedures (Experiment 4) supported these findings. Results suggest that attentional mechanisms involving the salience or content of the gap might contribute to the response rule adopted in a gap procedure.
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