Physical Science - Other

Factors that Affect Reaction Time



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Reaction time is the period between any emergency or danger, and a person’s response to the situation. This brief period, which is usually a matter of seconds, can mean the difference between life and death, or serious injury.

Factors that affect reaction time range from environmental conditions, to the physical or mental health of the person involved. Weather conditions, such as snow, ice, rain, or fog decrease reaction time by decreasing the ability of the individual to identify a dangerous situation, and act quickly enough to avoid it. However, other factors, in some cases, are more within the control of the individual and consequently, avoidable.

Physical conditions are some of the biggest factors in slowing danger signals to the brain. These can be fatigue, illness, problems with hearing or vision, or from taking certain medications. Lack of sleep decreases reaction time considerably, and recent studies have shown that extreme fatigue and sleepiness has the same effect while driving or operating machinery as being legally intoxicated.

Mental conditions such as preoccupation, distraction, moodiness, and anger can also play a major role. Examples of delayed reaction time due to distraction and preoccupation are texting or talking on the phone while driving, as are multi tasking, or daydreaming while dealing with dangerous machinery or materials. Anger, frustration, and speed are other mental conditions that affect decisions and judgment. Individuals that are rushed, or angry bypass certain safe guards and appropriate decisions.

The use of stimulants or depressants, alcohol, drugs, and tobacco also affect the function of the brain, and the time that it takes messages to reach the proper channels.

Age and experience are certainly critical factors in reaction time. Those experienced in certain fields, or around conditions that may prove dangerous, are more aware of warning signals and possible hazards. Older people may have slower reaction times, not only because of the potential of deteriorating cells and nerve endings that may impede transmissions to the brain, but also because of more apparent physical problems such as poor eyesight, inflexibility, and arthritic conditions that slow down the ability to see and respond to danger.

Reaction time can be improved by getting enough rest, staying healthy, and staying focused on the task at hand at all times. It can also be improved by certain timed games, math problems, and puzzles available online and in some video games designed to specifically improve mind and eye coordination.

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