Relationship of Reaction Time to Perception of a Stimulus and Volitionally Delayed Response

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Abstract

Background and Objective:

Initiation of response in a simple reaction time (RT) task may precede conscious perception of the stimulus. Since volitionally delayed responses may require conscious perception of the stimulus before response initiation, it has been hypothesized that volitionally delayed responses will markedly delay RT.

Methods:

We conducted two experiments with separate groups of healthy volunteers (n=16; n=13) who performed computerized simple and choice RT tasks. In the standard condition, we instructed the participants to respond to a visual stimulus by pushing a button as quickly as possible. In the second condition, we instructed the participants to respond after a slight volitional delay. The second experiment had an additional volitional delay condition in which we asked participants to delay their responses by an estimated 50% above their usual standard response.

Results:

We found marked delays and increased variability when participants volitionally delayed their responses, averaging 322 ms for standard and 861 ms for delayed simple RTs (267% increase), and 650 ms for standard and 1018 ms for delayed choice RTs (157% increase). Effects did not differ across age, sex, or handedness. However, a minority of participants did not meaningfully delay their RT during the volitional delay conditions.

Conclusions:

On average, participants had marked delays when they tried to delay their responses slightly, but a subset of participants exhibited essentially no delay despite trying to delay. We suggest some potential mechanisms that future investigations might delineate.

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