Russell M. Church

Professor
Russell_Church@brown.edu
(401) 863-2328
Office Location: 
Metcalf 245
Research Focus: 
Computational, cognitive, and neural basis of interval timing

Russell Church is an experimental psychologist who studies learning, memory, and decision processes of animals. He has been a member of the Brown faculty since 1955 where his early research concerned studies of social learning and punishment. During the last 25 years he has concentrated on the ability of animals (rats and humans) to discriminate time intervals, and adjust their behavior to the temporal constraints of tasks. His research, which involves behavioral, neuroscience, and mathematical approaches, has been published primarily in scientific journals. Since 1957 his research has been supported continuously by grants from the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Science Foundation. He has served as President of the Eastern Psychological Association, the Society for Computers in Psychology, and two Divisions of the American Psychological Association. He is currently teaching courses to graduate and undergraduate students in experimental analysis of behavior and mathematical models of psychological processes.

Research Interests:

The ability to estimate durations of time is an essential characteristic of animals and people that is required for rational decisions, accurate memory, association of events, and coordination of various components of behavior with each other and with environmental events.

Research in my laboratory is being conducted with rats and human subjects. Four approaches to the study of duration discrimination have been employed: behavioral, mathematical, cognitive, and biological. Understanding duration discrimination requires a knowledge of the relationship between stimulus conditions and temporal behavior, of mathematical models of timing and learning, of mental mechanisms (such as perception, memory, attention, decision), and of biological mechanisms (anatomy, pharmacology, and electrophysiology).

A mathematical timing theory accounts for performance in many timing tasks. These include tasks involving temporal discrimination and temporal performance. The results of such experiment have led to the development of more general principles of scalar timing and mathematical process models of temporal perception, memory, and decision. The predictions of the theory can be directly compared to the behavior of the animal with a Turing test.

Various biological manipulations (drugs and brain lesions) appear to have a selective influence on one or more of the mental mechanisms, and there are neural correlates of timing behavior.