Attentional bias between modalities: effect on the internal clock, memory, and decision stages used in animal time discrimination.
Both the presentation of unbalanced stimulus probabilities and the insertion of a predictive cue prior to the signal on each trial apparently induces a strong bias to use a particular stimulus modality in order to select a temporal criterion and response rule. This attentional bias toward one modality is apparently independent of the modality of the stimulus being timed and is strongly influenced by stimulus probabilities or prior warning cues. These techniques may be useful to control trial-by-trial sequential effects that influence a subject's perceptual and response biases when signals from more than one modality are used in duration discrimination tasks. Cross-procedural generality of the effects of attentional bias was observed. An asymmetrical modality effect on the latency to begin timing was observed with both the temporal bisection and the peak procedure. The latency to begin timing light signals, but not the latency to begin timing sound signals, was increased when the signal modality was unexpected. This asymmetrical effect was explained with the assumption that sound signals close the mode switch automatically, but that light signals close the mode switch only if attention is directed to the light. The time required to switch attention is reflected in a reduction of the number of pulses from the pacemaker that enter the accumulator. One positive aspect of this work is the demonstration that procedures similar to those used to study human cognition can be used with animal subjects with similar results. Perhaps these similarities will stimulate animal research on the physiological basis of various cognitive capacities. Animal subjects would be preferred for such physiological experimentation if it were established that they possessed some of the cognitive processes described by investigators of human information processing. One of the negative aspects of this work is that only one combination of modalities was used and variables such as stimulus intensity, stimulus probability, and range of signal durations have not been adequately investigated at present. Future work might test additional combinations of modalities and vary stimulus intensity and stimulus probability within a signal detection theory (SDT) framework to determine the effects of these variables on attentional bias.
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