Theoretical and conceptual issues in time–place discrimination


Dr J. D. Crystal, as above.


The need to discover resources that are available under specific environmental constraints represents a fundamental environmental pressure on the evolution of behavior. Time–place discrimination refers to the ability to secure resources when they are available under specific temporal and spatial contingencies. This article reviews a number of examples of time–place discrimination. The review highlights theoretical and conceptual issues that are needed to behaviorally identify the mechanisms responsible for time–place performance. Next, limitations on time–place performance that may be imposed by a circadian system are described. Finally, a number of lines of research that broaden these limitations are discussed. These lines of research include studies that suggest that (i) a broad range of long intervals (outside the limited range of circadian entrainment) are timed, (ii) at least some long intervals (16–21 h) are timed with an endogenous self-sustaining oscillator, (iii) short intervals (in the range of 1–3 min) are timed with an endogenous self-sustaining oscillator, and (iv) memory for specific unique events (including when and where they occurred) is based on a circadian representation of time. It is concluded that a unified theory of timing that can retain the times of occurrence of individual events is needed. The time of occurrence of an event may be encoded not only with respect to a circadian oscillator but also with respect to other oscillators in the long-interval and short-interval ranges.