Reaction Time: An Introduction
A reaction is the inherent ability of an organism to perceive a stimulus and respond to it. Reaction time, also called response time, is the amount of time from perceiving something till we respond to it. This trait is controlled by the body’s central nervous system that is made up of billions of neurons. These neurons receive the sensory input from the stimuli and relay this information to the brain. The brain then instructs the body to react. So, the process of a reaction basically involves three steps– detection, processing, and responding to something.
The reaction time of an individual depends upon:
- How they perceive the stimulus using their senses
- How they process the stimulus - one needs to be focused and understand the information sent by their senses
- Motor agility: This helps them respond quickly and appropriately.
An alteration or delay in any of the above steps can result in a longer reaction time. People with short reaction times tend to have good reflexes. Since reaction times arise from good cognitive abilities, individuals with neurodegenerative disorders, problems with sensory perception, and motor problems tend to have longer reaction times. Common conditions associated with long reaction times are ADHD, Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimer’s, MS, and Huntington’s Chorea.
Importance of Reaction Time
All personality traits and cognitive functions help us in one way or the other. Having a short reaction time is very important and, in fact, is essential to keep you safe in your everyday life. From perceiving a stimulus in time to reacting to it helps people get by their daily routine - from cooking to driving and pretty much everything you do is based on reaction time.
It is common to confuse reaction time with reflexes - reflexes are involuntary actions whereas, reaction time is associated with voluntary movements that one makes consciously.
Non-genetic Factors that Influence Reaction Time
Genetics influences reaction time in an individual. But, there are some non-genetic factors that can accentuate or aggravate reaction times. These are:
- Age: Though older people take the same time as younger people to assimilate information or perceive a stimulus, they take longer to react to them, thereby increasing reaction times as one age.
- Gender: Men have faster reaction times compared to women. However, a study by Jevas and Yan (2001) stated that age-related deterioration of reaction times was the same in both genders.
- Fatigue: It was found in multiple studies over the years that individuals who are deprived of sleep had longer reaction times.
- Distraction: People who failed to concentrate or were easily distracted in simple tasks like driving a car had longer reaction times. Another classic case of distraction is when one attempts to multitask. When you multitask, the two or more tasks compete for the brain’s cognitive resources resulting in slower reaction times.
- Alcohol Influence: This chemical substance slows down the body and, therefore, affects the reaction times in the inebriated.
- Hydration levels: A few hours without water can affect one’s reaction time.
- Type of stimulus: Reaction to auditory stimuli was found to be shorter than that for visual stimuli.
- Time of the day: It has been suggested by many studies that the time of the day affects reaction time. People have shorter reaction times during the early morning as compared to tonight because of increased fatigue in the latter part of the day.
Recommendations for Improving Reaction Time
Everyone may not have lightning-fast reflexes, but that shouldn’t be a dampener if you wish to improve your reaction time. Here are some ways by which you can shorten your reaction time:
Playing A Sport
Performing an action repeatedly improves the reaction time of an individual in that activity. This is why athletes and sportspersons do the same drills repeatedly when practicing. A good way to improve your reaction time is by playing a sport of your choice. Physical activity stimulates the nervous system to respond to a stimulus after processing information quickly, thereby shortening reaction time.
Learning to be calm by adopting relaxation techniques can help you reduce your reaction times. Studies have shown that staying calm strengthens the mind and enables better reaction time.
Fueling Your Body The Right Way
Foods that are rich in antioxidants, vitamin K, and tyrosine are said to boost brain function, including alertness and cognitive abilities. These, in turn, can help shorten reaction times.
Trying Your Hand At Video Games
People who play video games have incredibly short reaction times because that is what the games demand. This is, in fact, a good way to improve your reaction time as people tend to develop a heightened sense of their surroundings.
A simple throw and catch game with a tennis ball is very useful in improving reaction times in people.
Getting a Good Night’s Sleep Regularly
Overworking and not getting adequate sleep at night can fatigue not just your body but also your brain. Fatigue is known to prolong reaction time, and therefore, in order to improve your reaction times, you must get your recommended 8 hours of sleep each night.
- Reaction time, also called response time, is the amount of time from perceiving something till we respond to it. The shorter the reaction time, the better.
- The three key elements of reaction time are perceiving, processing, and responding to the stimuli.
- Good reaction time requires good cognition- so people with mental disorders like ADHD, Parkinson’s Disease, and Alzheimer’s may have longer reaction times.
- Reaction time is influenced in part by genetics. The ATXN2 gene, responsible for the production of ataxin-2, a protein found throughout the body, has been studied for its effects on reaction time.
- Genetic studies reveal that people with certain changes in the ATXN2 gene, and two other genes, tend to have a slower reaction time than those without the changes.
- Other factors like age, sex, alcohol consumption, hydration levels, presence of a distraction, and time of the day can also influence reaction time.
- Even if you do not have a fast response time naturally, a few techniques like playing a sport, getting the correct nutrition, and adequate sleep can help improve your reaction time.