Systems-level integration of interval timing and reaction time.
Reaction time (RT) procedures are a prominent tool for the study of information processing by humans and other animals. The interpretation of how RT changes after manipulating the appropriate experimental variables has contributed to the contemporary understanding of a variety of cognitive constructs, including attention and memory. With the use of properly designed tasks, evaluating how RT is modified in response to various neural perturbations has become common within the realms of behavioral and cognitive neuroscience. One interesting observation made during both human and animal RT experiments is that the RT to a signal often speeds-up as more time is allotted to prepare for the signal's onset-referred to as the preparatory interval (PI) effect. In the human RT literature, the PI effect has been used as evidence for time estimation playing a fundamental role in the determination of RT. On the other hand, our theoretical understanding of time estimation remains largely divorced from the RT findings in the animal cognition literature. In order to bridge these different perspectives, we provide here a review of the behavioral parallels between RT and interval-timing experiments. Moreover, both the PI effect and interval timing are shown to be jointly influenced by neuropathologies such as Parkinson's disease in humans or dopamine-depleting brain lesions in experimental animals. The primary goal of this review is to consider human and animal RT experiments within the broader context of interval timing. This is accomplished by first integrating human RT theory with scalar timing theory-the leading model of interval timing. Following this, both RT and interval timing are discussed at a brain systems level insofar as these two processes share common neural substrates. Our conclusion is that interval timing and RT processes are in fact two sides of the same coin.
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