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The quick and the dead: when reaction beats intention

By A. E. Welchman, J. Stanley, M. R. Schomers, R. Chris Miall and H. H. Bulthoff


Everyday behaviour involves a trade-off between planned actions and reaction to environmental events.Evidence from neurophysiology, neurology and functional brain imaging suggests different neural bases for the control of different movement types. Here we develop a behavioural paradigm to test movement dynamics for intentional versus reaction movements and provide evidence for a ‘reactive advantage’ in movement execution, whereby the same action is executed faster in reaction to an opponent. We placed pairs of participants in competition with each other to make a series of button presses. Within subject analysis of movement times revealed a 10 per cent benefit for reactive actions. This was maintained when opponents performed dissimilar actions, and when participants competed against a computer, suggesting that the effect is not related to facilitation produced by action observation. Rather, faster ballistic movements may be a general property of reactive motor control, potentially providing a useful means of promoting survival

Topics: BF Psychology
Publisher: Royal Society
Year: 2010
DOI identifier: 10.1098/rspb.2009.2123
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