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Think Fast: Do Video Game Players Have Faster Reaction Times Than Non-Players?

Difficulty
Time Required Average (6-10 days)
Prerequisites None
Material Availability You will need a personal computer with Internet access for this science fair project.
Cost Very Low (under $20)
Safety No issues

Abstract

When someone yells, "Think fast!" and throws you a ball, are you able to catch it? When the bell rings at the end of class, are you the first one out of your seat? Can you make it through a sudden hairpin turn in a video game without crashing? If so, then you likely have quick reaction times. In this science fair project, you'll look at reaction times (how fast people react to sensory events), and see if people who play video games have faster reaction times than those who do not.

Objective

To compare the reaction times of inexperienced and experienced video game players.

Credits

Kristin Strong, Science Buddies

Edited by Peter Boretsky, Lockheed Martin

Cite This Page

MLA Style

Science Buddies Staff. "Think Fast: Do Video Game Players Have Faster Reaction Times Than Non-Players?" Science Buddies. Science Buddies, 7 Dec. 2012. Web. 29 Aug. 2014 <http://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project_ideas/HumBio_p025.shtml>

APA Style

Science Buddies Staff. (2012, December 7). Think Fast: Do Video Game Players Have Faster Reaction Times Than Non-Players?. Retrieved August 29, 2014 from http://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project_ideas/HumBio_p025.shtml

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Last edit date: 2012-12-07

Introduction

In many action-packed video games, players have to quickly detect and avoid dangers. The highest scores are achieved by those players who respond the fastest to a detected danger. Playing action video games can be fun and highly entertaining, but can playing these games also improve a person's reaction time? Or do some people enjoy playing action video games because they already have fast reaction times?

Reaction time is the time between the start of a sensory stimulus and the time when a person responds to that stimulus. For example, if a person is told to push a button when he or she sees the color red flashed on a screen, the reaction time is the time between when red is first flashed on the screen and the time when he or she first pushes the button. Perhaps you've taken a hearing test for school. The reaction time is measured from when you first hear the beep to when you push the button.

The definition of reaction time is presented through a timeline. First, a blank screen is presented to the user. This is followed by flashing a red screen (when measurement of the reaction time begins). In the next sequence, this red screen is detected by the visual system. An image of the brain is then shown given a command to the arm and hand muscles to move. The final tick in the timeline shows a hand pushing a button (when measurement of the reaction time ends).
Figure 1. This drawing shows that reaction time is the time from the presentation of a stimulus (in this example, the stimulus is the red screen) to the time of a reaction to that stimulus (when the hand pushes the button). (msec is milliseconds.)

During the reaction time in the example above, the person's visual system will see and identify the color red, and then the higher thinking centers will command the motor cortex to send a signal to the arm and hand muscles to push the button. That's a lot going on! In an action video game, the player is presented not with a red screen, but with a danger (for example, a monster), and the player must then detect, identify, and respond to that monster through the console's controller, keyboard, or mouse.

The sensory stimulus does not have to be a visual though. Reaction time can be measured as a response to other sensory stimuli, too, such as a sound (like the roar of a monster), or a touch. In fact, reaction times to sound have been shown to be faster, on average, than reaction times to visual stimuli. Reaction times have also been shown to be dependent upon many factors, such as a person's age, genetics, gender, health, right- or left-handedness, level of fatigue, and distractions (other competing stimuli). For example, reaction times continue to shorten as a child ages. They reach their fastest point sometime in a person's late 20's. After this age, however, reaction times slowly begin to increase until the 50's and 60's, at which point they begin to increase even more.

Can a lot of experience playing action video games also influence reaction times? It's time to find out with a series of online video game tests.

Terms and Concepts

  • Reaction time
  • Sensory stimulus
  • Motor cortex
  • Arithmetic mean

Questions

  • How is reaction time defined?
  • Do different senses result in different reaction times?
  • What factors can influence reaction time?

Bibliography

This source describes how many factors—like age, gender, and handedness—can influence reaction times:

These websites offer reaction time tests:

This source uses a baseball pitch for a reaction time test. When you see the pitch, you click the image to see if you got a hit. It then displays your reaction time. You'll need to calculate your own averages after five tries, and you should turn off the sound to avoid distracting your volunteers as they play.

This source uses a stoplight for a reaction time test. When the light turns green, you click on a button, and your reaction time is recorded and displayed. After five tries, your average is displayed. This test will not allow a player to "jump the gun" and press the button too soon.

This source uses a sheep and a tranquilizer dart for a reaction time test. When a sheep runs out in the field, you click a dart button, and your reaction time is displayed. After five sheep, an average reaction time is given. This game does have a penalty for "jumping the gun," so you will need to redo any trial in which a volunteer presses the button before the sheep runs out. You will also need to turn off the sound in this one to avoid distractions for your volunteers.

Materials and Equipment

  • Volunteers (at least 5) who are:
    • Experienced at playing video games that require fast reaction times, such as action games, fighting games, platform games (where characters jump from one platform to the next), fast-moving puzzle games, race car games, or simulated sports games. Volunteers are considered experienced if they play video games requiring fast reaction times at least 5 hours per week.
    • Younger than age 30, but older than age 10.
  • Volunteers (at least 5) who are:
    • Inexperienced at playing video games that require fast reaction times. Volunteers are considered inexperienced if they play such video games less than 1 hour per week.
    • Younger than age 30, but older than age 10.
  • Personal computer with Internet access
  • Lab notebook

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Experimental Procedure

  1. There are many websites available to test reaction times. We've provided a few examples in the Bibliography, or you can find your own. Select one website to do all your testing that gives at least five reaction time tests per game to the volunteers.
  2. Select a volunteer and have him or her practice with the reaction time test until he or she has completed 10 reaction time tests.
  3. When you and your volunteer are ready to begin the experiment, have your volunteer take five reaction time tests. Make sure the test environment is quiet and free from sound or visual distractions. Record the reaction time after each test, in a data table, like the one below, in your lab notebook. Create one data table for inexperienced players and one for experienced players.

Reaction Times (milliseconds [msec]) For Inexperienced Video Game Players

Volunteer 1 Volunteer 2 Volunteer 3 Volunteer 4 Volunteer 5
         
         
         
         
         
Average: Average: Average: Average: Average:


Reaction Times (milliseconds [msec]) For Experienced Video Game Players

Volunteer 6 Volunteer 7 Volunteer 8 Volunteer 9 Volunteer 10
         
         
         
         
         
Average: Average: Average: Average: Average:

  1. Repeat steps 2-3 until all the volunteers have been tested.
  2. Make a scatter plot of the reaction times, plotting the reaction time on the y-axis for each volunteer. Use one symbol for experienced players and another symbol for inexperienced players so you can distinguish the two groups. Get the average reaction time, also known as the arithmetic mean for each group. Do experienced video game players have faster reaction times than inexperienced players? If so, do you think that is because playing video games a lot made them faster? Or, do you think experienced players were born with fast reaction times and they enjoy playing video games a lot because their fast reaction times make them successful players?

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Variations

  • Compare reaction times between volunteers of the same gender and similar ages, but different handedness (right-handed, left-handed, and ambidextrous). After a practice session, have volunteers complete the reaction tests first using their right hands and then their left hands. Do all volunteers with a dominant hand have faster reaction times when they use that dominant hand? Or, do some volunteers with a dominant hand have faster reaction times regardless of which hand they use?
  • Compare visual reaction times and sound reaction times for the same group of volunteers. Do people with fast visual reaction times have fast sound reaction times, too, or do some people have fast reaction times for one of their senses and slower reaction times for another?

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