Cognitive factors in simple reactions: a developmental study

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In an exploration of factors underlying the developmental increase in the speed of simple reaction to an auditory stimulus, two experiments were undertaken, with subjects aged 4, 10, and 20. The first experiment demonstrated that provision of visual feedback caused improvement for younger subjects but not for adults, whereas neither practice nor variable feedback caused any differential change. The second experiment was a simulated game where visual feedback was contingent on a "hit" on the previous trial. Following a hit the target moved faster, following a miss, slower. Practice caused a considerable improvement for the 4-year old subjects, but not for the older subjects. The nature it or miss feedback on the previous trial had powerful effects on the simple reaction times. For all subjects, a miss resulted in a subsequent substantial increase in speed on the next trial. Following a hit, the adults were unaffected, but the youngest subjects were substantially slower. The results are interpreted in terms of inappropriate relaxation following a hit for the 4-year old subjects, with active strategic behavior by the adults, following a miss. It is concluded that one variable (incentive provided by a miss) affects simple reaction for all ages, that two (disincentive provided by a hit, and visual feedback) differentially affect subjects of different ages, and that a fourth (use of a "trade-off" strategy) is not available to the youngest subjects.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)69-80
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Motor Behavior
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 31 Mar 1982


  • Cognitive factors


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