Washington, Feb 3 (ANI): Ever wondered why bad guys always get shot in a gunfight when they're the ones who reached for their guns first? Well, British researchers have got the answer for you.
Inspired by Hollywood cowboy films, boffins have shown that we move faster when we react to something in our environment than we do when we initiate the action ourselves.
Ever since cowboys first swaggered onto the silver screen, scientists have been struggling to solve this conundrum. The Nobel laureate and quantum physicist Niels Bohr was so intrigued with the puzzle he came up with a theory: the one who draws second moves faster because he reacts without thinking.
Now, a new study by psychologists at Birmingham University has shown that Bohr was right, at least up to a point.
"In our everyday lives, some of the movements we make come about because we decide to make them, while others are forced on us by reacting to events. Bohr's suggestion reflects this everyday intuition," said Andrew Welchman of the University of Birmingham, UK.
"We wanted to know if there was evidence for these reactive movements being swifter than the equivalent proactive ones. So we set up a competition between two people who were challenged to press a row of buttons faster than their opponent.
"There was no 'go' signal so all they had to go by was either their own intention to move or a reaction to their opponent-just like in the gunslingers legend," he added.
The team found that the participants who reacted to their opponent executed the movement on average 21 milliseconds faster than those who initiated the movement.
"As a general strategy for survival, having this system in our brains that gives us quick-and-dirty responses to the environment seems pretty useful," Welchman said.
"21 milliseconds may seem like a tiny difference, and it probably wouldn't save you in a Wild West dual because your brain takes around 200 milliseconds to respond to what your opponent is doing, but it could mean the difference between life and death when you are trying to avoid an oncoming bus," Welchman added.
The scientists at the University of Birmingham say their work could lead to a better understanding of how the brain handles intentional and reactive movements differently, which is important for understanding conditions such as Parkinson's disease.
The research is published February 3, 2010 in Proceedings of the Royal Society B. (ANI)