Have you ever noticed that the first cowboy to draw his gun in a Hollywood Western is invariably the one to get shot? Nobel prize–winning physicist Niels Bohr did, once arranging mock duels to test the validity of this cinematic curiosity.
Welchman's team organized simulated "gunfights" in the laboratory, with pairs of volunteers competing against each other to push three buttons on a computer console in a particular order. The researchers observed that the time interval between when players removed their hands from the first button and when they pressed the final button was on average 9% shorter for the players who reacted to an opponent moving first. However, those who reacted to a first move were more likely to make an error, presssing the buttons in the wrong order. Welchman speculates that this rapid, if somewhat inaccurate, response system may have evolved to help humans deal with danger, when immediate reaction is essential and the risk of an error worth taking.
Monday, February 15, 2010
Better to react than to act.
In ScienceNOW Tim Wogan points to recent work by Welchman et al. showing that when it comes to execution of our movements, reaction beats intention by about 10%.