Cognitive Ability- Neuropsychology
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Reaction time or response time refers to the amount of time that takes places between when we perceive something to when we respond to it. It is the ability to detect, process, and respond to a stimulus.
Reaction time depends on various factors:
- Perception: Seeing, hearing, or feeling a stimulus with certainty is essential to having good reaction time. When the starter shoots the gun at the beginning of a race, the sound is received by the athlete's ears (they perceive the stimulus).
- Processing: In order to have good reaction time, it's necessary to be focused and understand the information well. Following the previous example, the runners, after hearing the gun, will be able to distinguish the sound from other background noise and know that it is time to start running (process the stimulus).
- Response: Motor agility is necessary in order to be able to act and have good response time. When the runners perceived and correctly processes the signal, they started moving their legs (respond to the stimulus).
If any part of these processes is altered, reaction time will be affected as a consequence. In other words, if one of the athletes had poor reaction time, they would have a disadvantage against the other runners. Reaction time necessarily includes a motor component, unlike processing speed. This is why having good reaction time is associated with having good reflexes.
In this example, the processes (perceive, process, and respond), are done in a matter of milliseconds, but reaction time can vary depending on a variety of factors:
- Complexity of the stimulus-The more complex the stimulus, the more information that has to be processed, the longer this process will take.
- Familiarity, preparation, and expectations: If you have to respond to a known stimulus that you've responded to before, the reaction time will be lower. The less information that you have to process, the quicker the reaction time will be. If, as in the example with the runners, you are expecting the stimulus (waiting for the gun), reaction time will be even lower.
- State of the organism: Some factors that may negatively affect the detection of the stimulus are fatigue, attention (being sleepy), high temperature, old age, or even eating too much food or substances like alcohol or other drugs. All of these factors may negatively affect the detection of the stimulus, processing it, and responding to it. El tiempo de respuesta es menor cuando el estímulo que desencadena la respuesta es auditivo que cuando es visual, ya que los estímulos auditivos requieren un procesamiento menor. Cada modalidad sensorial conlleva un tiempo de respuesta distinto.
- Stimulated sensory modality: Reaction time is shorter when the stimulus that triggers the response is auditory than if it is visual because auditory stimuli require less processing. Each sensory modality has a different reaction time.
Aside from other factors, the type of stimulus that we process also affects reaction time.
- Simple: There is one single response to a single stimulus. For example, pressing the space bar on the on the computer when a word appears.
- Choice: There are different responses to different stimuli. For example, pressing the right arrow key if a word appears in Spanish, and pressing the left arrow key if the word appears in another language.
- Selection: There are different stimuli, but you only have to respond to one. For example, press the space bar only when the word appears in English. If it appears in Spanish, you don't do anything.
Why is reaction time so important and how does it affect daily life? Good reaction time allows us to be agile and efficient when it comes to responding to stimuli and situations like driving, having a conversation, playing sports, etc. Good response time benefits us in a variety of ways, but it's important that we properly process the information that we receive. If someone asks you a question in an interview, they will be expecting you to answer quickly and well. The same is true for other examples, like if your car breaks down, or if you have to act on your toes- you will have to respond quickly and accurately. Luckily, reaction time can be trained and improved.
Examples of response time
- If you are driving and you come across a crosswalk, the time that it takes from when you see the crosswalk to when you break and stop the car would be reaction time. This cognitive ability can prevent us from many dangerous car accidents.
- In a boxing match or football game, it is very important to detect the opponents move and know what they're going to to in order to react as quickly and carefully as possible. Good reaction time is the key to scoring and winning.
- A child is in gym class and has to start running when the teacher gives the signal. The time it takes between when the teacher gives the signal and when the child starts running would be reaction time.
- You're in a building and you smell smoke all of the sudden. Reaction time would be the time it takes you to find and use the closest fire extinguisher after detecting a fire.
- When a security guard sees suspicious behavior, the time that it takes him or her to react may be crucial for a successful intervention. If they see, for example, a robbery, response time would be the time between when they see the robbery and start taking action to prevent it.
Problems and disorders associated to reaction time
Any type of disorder that is characterized by perception, information processing, or motor problems will also affect reaction time. This is why reaction time is so sensitive to alterations. For example, visual or auditory problems like blindness or hearing impairments may lead to problems that affect reaction time due to the problems with perception. People with bradypsychia or dementia like Alzheimer's Disease may cause poor processing, and thus affect response time. People with inhibition control problems or oeople with ADHD may also have processing speed affected, which in turns affects response time. When it comes to carrying out the action, people with akinesia or bradykinesia, as is the case with Parkinson's patients, or motor problems like hemiparesia or other paralisies may also have problems when giving a motor response. In general, any neurodegenerative disorder like Alzheimer's, Parkinsons, MS, or Huntington's disease will also find that their reaction time is affected as well. Finally, brain problems caused by brain injury or stroke may affect any of these processes, which affects response time as a consequence.
One disorder that can most affect how quickly you are able to process information is called diffuse axonal injury. This usually happens after suffering from a concussion and the neural connections become damaged. The blow to the head or accident causing the concussion to break or tear the axons (the part of the neuron that allows it to connect with other neurons, white matter in the brain). This damage to the axons doesn't affect one specific area of the brain, but rather it affects all of the axons in the brain, causing diffuse damage. This translates into slowed processing and, as a result, a slower response time. Unfortunately, this type of injury is quite common and generally has a bad prognosis.
Reaction time isn't only affected by injury or some kind of disease or disorder. There are a number of different circumstances that may lower and weaken reaction time, like sleep, mood, anxiety, or lack of concentration in general. However, unlike the other factors, recovering reaction time affected by these circumstances is quicker and easier.
How to measure and assess response time?
Reaction time plays a role in the majority of our day-to-day activities. Our ability to interact with out surroundings and react to unexpected changes and events depends directly on this cognitive skill. Being able to evaluate reaction time and understand how it functions could be very helpful in a variety of situations and areas. For example, academics, as it allows teachers or patents to understand if the child has perception, processing, or motor problems and the academic repercussions this may have, medical, as it can help detect mild problems in patients with perceptive, processing, or motor areas, or in the professional field, where it makes it possible for workers to know and understand if they are best prepared to carry out certain activities that may require them to act quickly in certain circumstances.
We are able to measure different cognitive functions, including reaction time, with a complete neuropsychological assessment. The tests that CogniFit created to measure reaction time were based on the classic NEPSY test, Test of Variables of Attention (TOVA), Continuous Performance Test (CPT), Test of Memory Malingering (TOMM), and the Visual Organization Task (VOT). Aside from measuring reaction time, these tests also measure working memory, visual scanning, hand-eye coordination, inhibition, cognitive flexibility, naming, visual perception, contextual memory, recognition, sustained attention, and spatial perception.
- Inquiry Test REST-COM: Objects will appear for a short period of time. The user must select the word that correspond the image as quickly as possible.
- Decoding Test VIPER-NAM: Images will appear on the screen for a short period of time an then disappear. Four letters will then appear, only one of which will correspond to the letter of the object. The user must choose the correct letter as quickly as possible.
- Recognition Test WOM-REST: A series of three objects will appear on the screen. The user must memorize the order in which they are displayed and later choose the correct order from a selection.
- Resolution Test REST-SPER: A number of moving stimuli will appear on the screen. The user must click on the objective stimuli while avoiding irrelevant stimuli.
- Speed Test REST-HECOOR: A blue square will appear on the screen. The user must click as quickly and as many times as possible in the middle of the square. The more times the user clicks, the higher the score.
- Processing Test REST-INH: In this task, two different sized blocks with numbers inside will appear. The user will first have to click on the bigger block. The next step is to click on the block with the highest number .
How can you improve or rehabilitate response time?
Like our muscles, response time and our other cognitive skills can be trained and improved, and CogniFit has professional tools to do just that. The rehabilitation of reaction time is based on the science of neuroplasticity. CogniFit also has a battery of clinical exercises available to help rehabilitate problems with response time and other cognitive functions. Training and challenging your brain can help strengthen the brain and its neural networks. If you frequently train reaction time, the brain's connections will become stronger and healthier, which means that when it comes time to use response time, it will be quicker and require less mental resources.
CogniFit's professional team is made up of a number of specialists in the area of neuropsychology, neurogenesis, and synaptic plasticity, which is what allowed us to create the personalized cognitive stimulation program to meet each user's needs. This program starts with a precise assessment of the user's response time and other fundamental cognitive functions, and then uses the results to create a training program created to their specific needs.
Consistent and adequate training are necessary for improving reaction time, and CogniFit has assessment and rehabilitation toold to optimize this cognitive function. The program only requires 15 minutes two to three times a week..
You can use CogniFit online. There are a number of interactive online games and exercises that can be played on the computer or mobile device. After each session, CogniFit will provide a detailed graphic outlining the user's cognitive progress.