Psychology, Department of


Date of this Version

January 1997


Published in Behavior Research Methods, Instruments, & Computers 1997, 29 (4), 473-483. Copyright 1997 Psychonomic Society, Inc. Used by permission.


The present paper introduces the P system as a scheme for organizing Pavlovian procedures in an orderly and comprehensive manner. The system is defined by three temporal variables and three restrictions on their possible values. It can be used to define all standard temporal variables—namely, stimulus duration, interstimulus interval, trace interval, and intertrial interval—as well as variables C and T of scalar expectancy theory. The system also permits the definition of new independent variables through combinations of the basic temporal parameters. We exemplify this possibility by defining two ratios of temporal intervals. These ratios lead to a space where traditional Pavlovian arrangements (viz., simultaneous, forward-trace, forward-delay, backward) become points on a continuum, and optimal conditions across different experimental preparations become equivalent. Finally, the system can be used to define contingency variables such as p(US/CS), p(US/~CS), and the phi coefficient (φ). In this manner, an organization of different kinds of Pavlovian procedures is achieved on the basis of a single parametric scheme. Such an organization facilitates establishing procedural and theoretical relationships between temporal and contingency variables. The paper concludes with a discussion of certain limitations of the system and other related issues.