Peter Balsam

Peter Balsam

Ph.D., University of North Carolina, Greensboro, 1975

General Area of Research

Analysis of mechanisms of learning with an emphasis on learning about time.

Current Research

Current work in animal cognition suggests that interval timing plays a very important role in guiding learning and behavior.   There is an emerging consensus that most animals perceive and encode temporal information about their experiences.  They seem to automatically store quantitative information about event durations and precise temporal information about the relationship between events.  Furthermore, this information can be used in very flexible ways to solve problems.   The ongoing work asks how is time perceived, encoded and retrieved?   How is temporal information used to make decisions about whether, when, and how to respond? Our projects are aimed at answering these questions in behavioral studies with mice, rats, pigeons and humans.  We are also doing studies in mice and rats analyzing how the brain controls this very important aspect of adaptive behavior.   


In other projects we have studied how new responses are learned.   The induction of new behavior is a basic question in all areas of psychology.  For example, a fundamental question in the study of development is why one response form gives way to another as the organism gets older.  Babies go from crawling to walking and from suckling to feeding.   Our own work on the origins of new behavior takes place in three domains.  We have researched how a rat is shaped to press a bar, how a young bird learns to eat a piece of seed, and how humans learn a novel sequence of simple actions.

Relevant Publications

Balsam, P.D., Fairhurst, S. & Gallistel, C.R. (2006) Pavlovian contingencies and temporal information. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behavior Processes. 

Choi, W-Y. , Balsam, P.D & Horvitz, J.C. (2005) Dopamine mediation of an appetitive behavior decreases with extended training. Journal of Neuroscience, 25, 6729-6733.

Drew, M.R., Zupan, B., Cooke, A., Couvillon, P.A. & Balsam, P.D. (2005). Temporal Control of Conditioned Responding in Goldfish.Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behavior Processes.31, 31-39

Gallistel, C.R., Fairhurst, S. & Balsam, P.D. (2004) The Learning Curve: Implications of a quantitative analysis. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 101, 13124-13131.