- The boundary conditions for Bohr’s law: when is reacting faster than acting?
- Attention, Perception & Psychophysics
- Volume | Issue number
- 73 | 2
- Pages (from-to)
- Document type
- Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences (FMG)
- Psychology Research Institute (PsyRes)
In gunfights in Western movies, the hero typically wins, even though the villain draws first. Niels Bohr (Gamow, The great physicists from Galileo to Einstein. Chapter: The law of quantum, 1988) suggested that this reflected a psychophysical law, rather than a dramatic conceit. He hypothesized that reacting is faster than acting. Welchman, Stanley, Schomers, Miall, and Bülthoff (Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences, 277, 1667-1674, 2010) provided empirical evidence supporting "Bohr’s law," showing that the time to complete simple manual actions was shorter when reacting than when initiating an action. Here we probe the limits of this effect. In three experiments, participants performed a simple manual action, which could either be self-initiated or executed following an external visual trigger. Inter-button time was reliably faster when the action was externally triggered. However, the effect disappeared for the second step in a two-step action. Furthermore, the effect reversed when a choice between two actions had to be made. Reacting is faster than acting, but only for simple, ballistic actions.
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