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Henke, Josphine; Flanagin, Virginia L.; Thurley, Kay (2022): A virtual reality time reproduction task for rodents. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, 16. ISSN 1662-5153

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Estimates of the duration of time intervals and other magnitudes exhibit characteristic biases that likely result from error minimization strategies. To investigate such phenomena, magnitude reproduction tasks are used with humans and other primates. However, such behavioral tasks do not exist for rodents, one of the most important animal orders for neuroscience. We, therefore, developed a time reproduction task that can be used with rodents. It involves an animal reproducing the duration of a timed visual stimulus by walking along a corridor. The task was implemented in virtual reality, which allowed us to ensure that the animals were actually estimating time. The hallway did not contain prominent spatial cues and movement could be de-correlated from optic flow, such that the animals could not learn a mapping between stimulus duration and covered distance. We tested the reproduction of durations of several seconds in three different stimulus ranges. The gerbils reproduced the durations with a precision similar to experiments on humans. Their time reproductions also exhibited the characteristic biases of magnitude estimation experiments. These results demonstrate that our behavioral paradigm provides a means to study time reproduction in rodents.

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