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Time perception and patience: individual differences in interval timing precision predict choice impulsivity in European starlings, Sturnus vulgaris

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Clare Andrews, Dr Jonathon DunnORCiD, Professor Daniel Nettle, Professor Melissa BatesonORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


© 2020, The Author(s). Impulsivity, in the sense of the extent rewards are devalued as the time until their realization increases, is linked to various negative outcomes in humans, yet understanding of the cognitive mechanisms underlying it is limited. Variation in the imprecision of interval timing is a possible contributor to variation in impulsivity. We use a numerical model to generate predictions concerning the effect of timing imprecision on impulsivity. We distinguish between fixed imprecision (the imprecision that applies even when timing the very shortest time intervals) and proportional imprecision (the rate at which imprecision increases as the interval becomes longer). The model predicts that impulsivity should increase with increasing fixed imprecision, but decrease with increasing proportional imprecision. We present data from a cohort of European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris, n = 28) in which impulsivity had previously been measured through an intertemporal choice paradigm. We tested interval timing imprecision in the same individuals using a tri-peak temporal reproduction procedure. We found repeatable individual differences in both fixed and proportional imprecision. As predicted, birds with greater proportional imprecision in interval timing made fewer impulsive choices, whilst those with greater fixed imprecision tended to make more. Contradictory observations in the literature regarding the direction of association between timing imprecision and impulsivity might be clarified by distinguishing between fixed and proportional components of imprecision.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Andrews C, Dunn J, Nettle D, Bateson M

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Animal Cognition

Year: 2021

Volume: 24

Pages: 731-745

Print publication date: 01/07/2021

Online publication date: 12/01/2021

Acceptance date: 08/12/2020

Date deposited: 28/01/2022

ISSN (print): 1435-9448

ISSN (electronic): 1435-9456

Publisher: Springer Science and Business Media Deutschland GmbH


DOI: 10.1007/s10071-020-01456-2


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AdG 666669