R is for… Reaction time

The Psychologist A to Z continues.

Suggested by Kelli Vaughn-Johnson, PhD student at York University, Toronto

‘Reaction time is a historic and continuous part of psychological science. How long does it take the bystander to help? What is the distance between a child’s cry and a father’s reach? From G.E. Müller’s foundational studies at Göttingen and modern neurological analyses to everyday threat predictions in the workplace or street, predicting human behaviour requires the ability to properly assess the space of time between thought and action.’

Reaction time largely accounts for the link between intelligence and mortality. In their January 2013 article, Ian Deary and John Maltby concluded that intelligence is an indicator of bodily system integrity, and not social class. A 2016 study from the group, led by Catharine Gale, suggested that slower processing speed may be a risk factor for the development of psychological distress.

Many ‘brain training’ games seek to improve reaction times. But a 2016 review led by Daniel Simons and covered by our Research Digest found that brain training exercises only make you better at brain training exercises.

Talking to us in 2012, John Wearden explained that reaction times are faster if they’re preceded by a train of clicks: ‘there is some deep connection between psychological time and information processing’.

Reaction times have obvious import in sport, and George Hanshaw and Marlon Sukal have shown how they can be improved via self-talk and imagery.

On our Digest blog, find reaction time studies on aggression, loneliness, self-control in ADHD, the brain’s ‘default mode network’….

Illustration: Karla Novak

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