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Scientific American:

A study in the Proceedings of the Royal Society finds that reacting to a movement, such as being drawn on in a gunfight, is faster than initiating the movement

14 Responses to “Reactionary”

  1. Wolfwood Says:

    Especially when one is hepped up on caffeine.

  2. mariner Says:

    That’s contrary to everything else I’ve read about action vs. reaction.

    But then, the Royal Society is in the place formerly known as Great Britain, where only cops and criminals have firearms, so maybe things are different there.

  3. Will Says:

    Bill Jordan could do it. Not sure about us mere mortals.

  4. PeterT Says:

    Back in the day when I fenced Epee 20 hours a week, I found the RS’s findings to be quite true. I would guess that I was at least 10% faster reacting vice initiating an attack.

    YMMV, and I suspect the extreme amount of practice I did may have had an effect on my results.

  5. D2k Says:

    The BBC article on this has an interesting thing about Bohr having done this experiment at one point.

  6. GuardDuck Says:

    It makes sense in that the reactor’s actions travel through our lizard brain neural pathways which are shorter and more direct than our higher brain pathways.

    The problem with relating the study to real life is that the reactor already knows what the trigger is (no pun intended) and what the reaction is supposed to be.

    This would still be fine if you found yourself in an old west style street showdown. But when you have to determine first what is happening, then determine what to do about it your higher level brain functions have to be used.

    That’s why you walk around in condition yellow – it takes less time to process what’s happening when you are more aware of your surroundings. That’s why you practice drawing and firing, so you don’t have to think through the action, you just do it once you decide that’s the proper action. That’s why you practice scenarios, so you have a mental reference to shorten the recognition process that you have to react to.

    All those things we do so that we can get closer to the idealized situation of this study – we are closer to ‘instinctively’ knowing what the trigger is and what the reaction is.

  7. straightarrow Says:

    When I was fighting I noticed that I could beat my opponent to the punch even though he started first. I was a very good counterpuncher because of it. No thought, just automatic reflex.

    I had a sort of brother (long story), who was a black belt in Kung Fu. Sometimes he would come home from the dojo all pumped up and want to display some of his skill. If he said to me, “See if you can defend against this”. I couldn’t. Too much thought. On those occassions when he just sprung something on me without warning I always beat him or knocked him on his ass. It used to frustrate the Hell out of him. Especially since he could and once did throw me so far that I thought I had learned to fly.

    Reactions that are reflexive are much quicker than those relying on thought processes.

  8. Paul Says:

    Now it depends on how they do the study. If both participants have the EXACT same training, same reflexes, plus no telegraphing, etc… and have to do the exact same body motions, well I don’t see how someone reacting will be faster than the one initiating the attack.

    If, on the other hand, they are using people who are more experienced and can read the other guy, well itís a bogus study.

    Like global warming, I want to see the raw data!!!! You know how those Europeans tend to fudge data.

  9. straightarrow Says:

    The reptilian part of your psyche is faster than all the others. That’s how it can be true. Too damn bad, I can’t use that part of my brain to type.

  10. D2k Says:

    @straightarrow fast typists are using that part of their brain to type.

  11. mariner Says:


    But that’s just at LGF, right?

  12. straightarrow Says:

    yeah they may be, but I can’t. It only seems to work for me in dire situations where there is danger involved. Well, I mean serious danger not just looking like an idiot, ergo my typing skills suck.

  13. Rick Randall Says:

    The only problem is that, if you’re reaction time is 0.1 seconds faster than the other guy’s action time. . . what if he’s 0.15 sec ahead of you on the movement?

    You can’t shoot someone because they MIGHT be reaching for a gun — maybe their phone just buzzed on vibrate.

    So, before you can legally begin reaction, chances are that you’re too far behind the power curve to catch up, much less overtake.

  14. straightarrow Says:

    Lag time will get you killed if you don’t know how to handle it. Lag time is that pesky little thing that enables a man with a knife to cover 21′ and stab you before you can pull the trigger, even though you had your gun trained on him.

    Lag time applies in greater amount to actions requiring thought. Reflex greatly cuts the amount of lag time. So, as Rick has pointed out, you could if employing reflex shoot a guy just answering his damn phone. On the other hand, seeing the threat, travel time to the brain, analysis, and message traveling to muscles to pull the trigger can get you killed by being just that little bit too late.

    One of the problems, reflex may occur involuntarily. It’s a reflex. Another problem, thought is often too slow. There are no answers that will always be right. Training, not just in arms or technique, but in reading people and situations can help, but all dangerous situations are fraught with the potential for error.

    Avoidance if possible is best.