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Neurobiol Learn Mem. 2014 Feb;108:136-44. doi: 10.1016/j.nlm.2013.11.019. Epub 2013 Dec 3.

Time to rethink the neural mechanisms of learning and memory.

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Center for Cognitive Science, Rutgers University, United States.
Departments of Psychology and Psychiatry, Barnard College and Columbia University, United States. Electronic address:


Most studies in the neurobiology of learning assume that the underlying learning process is a pairing - dependent change in synaptic strength that requires repeated experience of events presented in close temporal contiguity. However, much learning is rapid and does not depend on temporal contiguity, which has never been precisely defined. These points are well illustrated by studies showing that the temporal relations between events are rapidly learned- even over long delays- and that this knowledge governs the form and timing of behavior. The speed with which anticipatory responses emerge in conditioning paradigms is determined by the information that cues provide about the timing of rewards. The challenge for understanding the neurobiology of learning is to understand the mechanisms in the nervous system that encode information from even a single experience, the nature of the memory mechanisms that can encode quantities such as time, and how the brain can flexibly perform computations based on this information.


Anticipation; Conditioning; Information theory; Learning; Time perception; Timing

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