No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it is not the same river and he is not the same man.
Hereclitus is also translated another way: "change is the only constant." Behavioural scientists who view change as the fundamental component of life are uniquely positioned to direct those changes by investigating how patterns of behavior adapt to environmental changes.
All adaptation necessarily takes time, and understanding how long it takes individual organisms to adapt to environmental changes is essential to the development of comprehensive models of behavior that not only describe what has already occurred but are capable of predicting future behavior.
Integrating Choice and Timing Dynamics
Given a choice between a short delay to food and a longer one, animals prefer the shorter delay. As such, presumably the underlying mechanisms regulating preference should be related to those governing temporal discrimination. We demonstrated that the adaptation of preference and temporal discrimination are interdependent in a dynamic environment (Kyonka & Grace, 2007). However, experiments that do not use dynamic environments consistently find no evidence that choice and timing processes are interdependent. We are working to uncover the causal mechanisms relating dynamic choice and timing and to explain why the two processes are apparently related in dynamic but not static environments.
Environmental dynamics modulate covariation of choice and timing.
Subramaniam, S., & Kyonka, E. G. E. (2016). Environmental dynamics modulate covariation of choice and timing. Behavioural Processes, 124, 130-140.
It's clear where the bird should forage in the middle of winter and summer, but during spring and autumn, temperatures can vary widely, so which tree is best might change from day to day. Does the bird change its approach to deciding where to forage in those 'shoulder' seasons? Does the basis for the bird's choice depend on how quickly the environment is changing?
In our laboratory, we investigated how pigeons used perceived delays to food to choose between two food outcomes, with a specific interest in whether choice differed in stable vs unstable environments. We found that measures of perceived time and of choice were both sensitive to the delays to food static and changing conditions. Encoding error from measures of choice were more related to timing encoding error in dynamic than static conditions. We interpret these results as a positive indication that dynamism plays a role in choice: pigeons use different decision strategies based on the pace of environmental change.
In the middle of winter in West Virginia, the weather varies from snow storms to warm sunshine and back over the space of a week or two. It makes me wonder how many stable environments will endure and how my own behavior is impacted as they disappear!
What happens when the behavior required to obtain food stays the same, but the environmental cues that signal the food are changed or removed? Rats and pigeons are differentially able to maintain response sequences that lead to food depending on how the signals change and their prior history with alternative signals.
We are investigating how different training procedures and environmental factors affect an animals’ ability to maintain learned behavior as guiding cues change or disappear.