Paper in Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Learning and Cognition
  • Boakes, Robert A.; Costa, Daniel S. J. (2014). Temporal contiguity in associative learning: Interference and decay from an historical perspective. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Learning and Cognition, Vol 40(4), 381-400.

    The greater the separation in time between 2 events, A followed by B, the less likely they are to become associated. The dominant explanation of this temporal contiguity effect has been trace decay: During the interval between A and B, the trace left by A becomes too weak by the time B occurs for an association to be formed between them. Pavlov adopted this idea in the context of classical conditioning and Hull used it to account for the deleterious effect of delaying reinforcement on the acquisition of instrumental responses. By 1960 various studies supported the conclusion that animals could not learn to associate 2 events separated by more than around 45 s. Research on human skill acquisition with delayed feedback and later studies using causal or predictive judgment tasks indicated that explicit cognitive processing is generally involved when humans associate events separated by more than a few seconds. The discovery of long-delay taste aversion learning prompted Revusky’s (1971) alternative analysis of contiguity effects in terms of interference: The greater the separation between A and B, the more likely that extraneous events compete for association with A and B. Although the analysis of overshadowing provided by associative learning theories provides a context for this account, none of these theories provide a satisfactory account of evidence on temporal contiguity from a wide range of animal studies. Alternative timing theories are arguably also unsatisfactory.