In the gun duels of Hollywood Westerns, the one who draws first (usually the bad guy) always tends to lose. Why? Decades ago, Nobel laureate Niels Bohr claimed that would likely be the case in a real duel too because the cowboy who draws second would have a reactive advantage -- the person reacting "without thinking" moves quicker than the person who consciously draws first. Indeed, new research on the matter by University of Birmingham psychologist Andrew Welchman suggests that the brain's wiring evolved such that reactive movements are faster than voluntary ones. However, Welchman says that this doesn't mean the Hollywood cliche is based in reality. In experiments he ran where players competed by hitting a series of buttons rather than firing on one another, the reaction time -- the delay between a stimulus and execution of a response -- negated the reactive advantage. From New Scientist:
There was a "reaction time"... delay of 200 milliseconds before the players started to respond to their opponent's actions. So although they moved faster, they never won.
"Draw! The neuroscience behind Hollywood shoot-outs"
The only way the last guy to draw could win is if the reactive part of the brain makes him move so fast that the time it takes him to draw, plus his reaction time, is less than the time it takes the first guy just to draw.
"It would be hard to get fast enough to recover the time it takes to react to your opponent," says Welchman. He thinks fast reactions evolved for avoiding unexpected danger, or for confrontations in which animals are in a face-off, and the second to move needs speed.
Indeed, Welchman's "reactive" players hit the buttons less accurately than the "intentional" players, another reason fast reactions may not win gunfights.
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