The quick and the dead: when reaction beats intention.

Andrew Welchman, J Stanley, MR Schomers, Rowland Miall, HH Bülthoff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)
221 Downloads (Pure)


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.
Original languageEnglish
JournalRoyal Society of London. Proceedings B. Biological Sciences
Publication statusPublished - 3 Feb 2010


  • movement control
  • mirror neuron system
  • action observation
  • Parkinson's disease
  • interference
  • interpersonal competition
  • response selection


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