Some theories of associative learning imply that time plays a fundamental role in the acquisition process. Consistent with these theories, this paper presents evidence that the time from the onset of a conditioned stimulus (CS) until presentation of the unconditioned stimulus (US) is learned very rapidly at the start of training. We report two autoshaping studies and a study on aversive conditioning in goldfish in which we examine timing at the start of conditioning. We also review data from a number of other conditioning preparations, including fear-potentiated startle, appetitive conditioning in rats, and eyeblink conditioning in rabbits, that report conditioned response (CR) timing early in training. Acquisition speed and the very first expressions of conditioned responding often show sensitivity to the time of US presentation. In instances where temporal control is slowly expressed, it is likely due to performance factors, not to slow learning about time. In fact, the learning about time may be a necessary condition for associative learning. © 2002 Elsevier Science USA.
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