MadSci Network: Neuroscience

Re: why and [do] girls have a quicker reaction time than boys?

Date: Tue Aug 22 09:18:21 2006
Posted By: Mitchell Maltenfort, Staff, Neurosurgery, Thomas Jefferson University
Area of science: Neuroscience
ID: 1152135038.Ns

Dear Vicky,

You may be thinking of a study at Vanderbilt University, described at action=view_section&id=707&story_id=168&images=
which doesn't focus on reaction time, or a science fair project at
which does.

Why would reaction times be faster for girls? If we assume nerves and muscles work at around the same speed, then we have to consider how the brains process information.

The Vanderbilt study suggests that girls have an advantage in timed tasks. If girls are focused on one task while boys are scanning the environment, then girls would have less delay in noticing that the stick had begun to fall.

While the science fair study would seem to make a more concrete case for girls having better reaction time, it has two failings:

1) small sample sizes (13 of each).
2) no statistical tests.

I suspect that if the science fair study had done a t-test to compare the reaction times of boys and girls, the difference would not have been statistically significant -- it could have been a result of random chance, like flipping a coin ten times could turn up more heads than tails.

If you had a random boy and a random girl catching the stick, it's roughly even odds which one will win. Now if one of them was an athlete and the other was a couch potato, I'd bet on the athlete -- whatever the gender.

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