James Denniston

Research Interests

  • Elementary information processing in animals

My area of specialization is information processing in animals, including learning, memory, timing, and decision making. My recent work has been concerned with the role of temporal variables in cue competition, conditioned inhibition, and extinction. Specifically, how do animals represent and use temporal information in determining whether and when to respond? The primary finding from these investigations is that inhibitory stimuli can act as signals for US omission at a specific temporal location. This finding further demonstrates the richness of inhibitory associations (e.g., conditioned inhibitors encode both the identity and the temporal location of omitted events). Additional work has focused on distinguishing between contemporary models of cue competition using both human and non-human participants. This work has led to an elaboration of the Comparator Hypothesis. The Comparator Hypothesis is a response rule for the expression of Pavlovian associations, which posits that responding to a CS is not only proportional to the strength of the CS-US association, but is also an inverse function of the associative strength of other stimuli present during training of the target stimulus. That is, as the associative strength of other stimuli trained in the presence of the target stimulus (i.e., comparator stimuli) increase relative to the target CS-US association, excitatory behavioral control by the target stimulus decreases (and inhibitory behavioral control by the target stimulus increases). The elaborated version of the Comparator Hypothesis allows for the effectiveness of comparator stimuli to be modulated in turn by their own comparator stimuli. In other words, the ability of a comparator stimulus to modulate responding to a target stimulus is determined by its own comparator stimuli. This extended version of the Comparator Hypothesis is able to explain many of the frequently reported cue competition effects and has inspired a wealth of research aimed at distinguishing between acquisition- and performance-based models of Pavlovian behavior. Other lines of research have focused on theories of extinction and the application of basic behavioral research to clinical situations (e.g., therapy). Future work will continue to explore the representation of omitted events (i.e., conditioned inhibition) in human and non-human participants in order to gain a better understanding of both the associative structure and response rules underlying inhibitory behavioral control and associative competition between stimuli that occur together.

Education

  • Ph.D., 1999, State University of New York at Binghamton, Experimental Psychology
  • M.A., 1994, Bucknell University, Experimental Psychology
  • B.A., 1992, New York University

Representative Publications

  • Denniston, J. C. (2008). Basic learning processes: Recent trends in classical conditioning. In W. F. Buskist & S. F. Davis (Eds.), The Handbook of Psychology in the 21st Century. Thousand Oaks, CA. Sage Publications.
  • Denniston, J. C., & Miller, R. R. (2007). Timing of omitted events: An analysis of temporal control of inhibitory behavior. Behavioural Processes, 74, 274-285. [PDF Format]
  • Pineño, O., Denniston, J. C., Beckers, T., Matute, H., & Miller, R. R. (2005). Contrasting predictive and causal values of predictors and of causes. Learning & Behavior, 33, 184-196. [PDF Format]
  • Denniston, J. C., Blaisdell, A. P., & Miller, R. R. (2004). Temporal coding in conditioned inhibition: Analysis of associative structure of inhibition. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behavior Processes, 30, 190-202. [PDF Format]
  • Denniston, J. C., & Miller, R. R. (2003). The role of temporal variables in inhibition produced through extinction. Learning & Behavior, 31, 35-48. [PDF Format]
  • Denniston, J. C., Waring, D. A., & Buskist, W. (2003). Charles Darwin teaches evolutionary psychology. Contemporary Psychology, 48, 238-241.
  • Denniston, J. C., Chang, R., & Miller, R. R. (2003). Massive extinction treatment attenuates the renewal effect. Learning and Motivation, 34, 68-86. [PDF Format]
  • Denniston, J. C., Savastano, H. I., Blaisdell, A. P., & Miller, R. R. (2003). Cue competition as a retrieval deficit. Learning and Motivation, 34, 1-31. [PDF Format]
  • Blaisdell, A. P., Denniston, J. C., & Miller, R. R. (2001) Recovery from the overexpectation effect: Contrasting performance-focused and acquisition-focused models of retrospective revaluation. Animal Learning & Behavior, 29, 367-380. [PDF Format]
  • Burger, D., Denniston, J. C., & Miller, R. R. (2001). Temporal coding in condition inhibition: Retardation tests. Animal Learning & Behavior, 29, 281-290. [PDF Format]
  • Denniston, J. C., Savastano, H. I., & Miller, R. R. (2001). The extended comparator hypothesis: Learning by contiguity, responding by relative strength. In R. R. Mowrer & S. B. Klein (Eds.), Handbook of contemporary learning theories. (pp. 65-117). Mahwah, NJ. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
  • Blaisdell, A. P., Denniston, J. C., Savastano, H. I., & Miller, R. R. (2000). Counterconditioning of an overshadowed cue attenuates overshadowing. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behavior Processes, 26, 74-86. [PDF Format]
  • Blaisdell, A. P., Denniston, J. C., & Miller, R. R. (1999). Posttraining shifts in the overshadowing stimulus-US interval alleviates the overshadowing deficit. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behavior Processes, 25, 18-27. [PDF Format]
  • Gunther, L. M., Denniston, J. C., & Miller, R. R. (1998). Renewal of comparator stimuli. Learning and Motivation, 29, 200-219.
  • Gunther, L. M., Denniston, J. C., & Miller, R. R. (1998). Conducting exposure treatment in multiple contexts can prevent relapse. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 36, 75-91. [PDF Format]
  • Denniston, J. C., Cole, R. P., & Miller, R. R. (1998). The role of temporal variables in the transfer of conditioned inhibition. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behavior Processes, 24, 200-214. [PDF Format]
  • Denniston, J. C., Blaisdell, A. P., & Miller, R. R. (1998). Temporal coding affects transfer of serial and simultaneous inhibitors. Animal Learning & Behavior, 26, 336-350. [PDF Format]
  • Blaisdell, A. P., Denniston, J. C., & Miller, R. R. (1998). Temporal encoding as a determinant of overshadowing. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behavior Processes, 24, 72-83. [PDF Format]
  • Blaisdell, A. P., Denniston, J. C., & Miller, R. R. (1997). Unblocking with qualitative change of US. Learning and Motivation, 28, 268-279. [PDF Format]
  • Denniston, J. C., Miller, R. R., & Matute, H. (1996). Biological significance as a determinant of cue competition. Psychological Science, 7, 325-331.
  • Cole, R. P., Denniston, J. C., & Miller, R. R. (1996). Reminder induced attenuation of the effect of relative stimulus validity. Animal Learning & Behavior, 24, 256-265.
Title: Professor of Psychology & , American Council on Education, Fellow - Wake Forest University
Department: Department of Psychology

Email address: Email me

Phone: (828) 262-8939

Fax: (828) 262-2974

Office address
215 Smith Wright Hall