Introducing ReactionTimer

ReactionTimer, released today (although in secret beta on this site for several months), is exactly what it sounds like: a reaction timer. However, it also provides a number of challenges that are designed to time your reaction time plus the time required to perform some mental task. This program is deliberately smartphone-friendly.

Basic usage consists of these steps:

  1. Select a challenge from the list of yellow options. (Your current selection will be white text on a black background.)
  2. Click “Start Challenge”. You will have a brief window of time to move your cursor/finger over the large button that says “Click on go”.
  3. The the dots (…) above “Click on go” will change and some sort of signal will appear.
  4. If the signal is correct click “Click on go”. Otherwise wait for the correct signal.
  5. Once you click (correctly) your time will appear and will be logged on the screen below the buttons.

The image above shows a screenshot of the program as it might appear on a smartphone1. The tail end of the list of challenge options can be seen at the top, followed by a black-bordered block containing the instructions for this challenge type. Below this is the word “GO!”, the signal for this challenge, and under “Start trial” is my time for this challenge. Below “Click on go” is a chronologically-ordered list of my times, with the most recent at the bottom.

In this case we can also see the use of ReactionTimer. The change from “Countdown” to “RandomGo” has added 189 milliseconds to my reaction time. By trying different challenges one can actually measure the time required to mentally process the signal.

Challenge Options

Countdown is the simplest challenge. After a brief moment to allow the user to prepare the screen shows a countdown –  3, 2, 1, GO!. The timing is the same at each transition which allows the user to click “Click on go” when “GO!” should be appearing and not actually wait for the signal to be processed by the brain.

Random Start is perhaps the best measure of actual reaction time. The signal area remains as the starting three dots (…) until, at random, it changes to the word “GO!”. The signal is clear and unambiguous, the only challenge is waiting for the visual processing of the signal.

When Word is Go draws randomly from a list of words. These are all sorts of words, but all are capitalized only on the first letter, except for “GO!”. The transitions between words occur at regular intervals, but the user must still identify what the word is.

When Word is Go (Annoying) also uses a random list of words, but unlike normal When Word is Go all of the words are two letters, capitalized, and followed by an exclamation mark. This makes them less visually distinct from “GO!”.

When Word is Animal lists random words, some of which are the names of animals. If the random word is the name of an animal the user should tap “Click on go”. Unlike the previous challenges this challenge incorporates multiple correct answers, which makes it noticeably harder, as the user’s brain has to process what the word is, not just whether it is or isn’t one specific word.

When Word is Not Animal is the opposite of When Word is Animal. Is it harder to parse a negative than a positive? Now you can see!

When Word is Adjective lists random words, and the go-signal is when the word is an adjective. Care has been taken to supply the list only with words that are clearly adjectives or clearly not. However, this one requires a great deal more mental processing than the previous ones.

When Addition Problem is Right supplies the user with a simple addition problem (two numbers, both under 10, and their sum). Most of the time the sum is not correct. (Under the hood ReactionTimer adds up the numbers correctly and then normally adds or subtracts a small, non-zero, random number.) When the numbers actually add to the displayed sum the user should click. This one gives the user more time between transitions than the previous ones.

When Colors Match presents the user with a colored square and the colored word “Text” (see below). When the colors of both items are the same the user should click. This one largely lays the groundwork for later challenges involving color and allows the user to get a baseline reading for recognizing color matches.

When Color is Right involves the Stroop Effect. Instead of a colored block and colored text that says nothing useful the colored text is also the name of a color. When the name of the color and the color of the text match (e.g., the word “Green” in green) the user should click. Honestly, this one drove me nuts every time I tested it.

When List Ascending presents the user with a list of four numbers (e.g., 8, 10, 21, 31). If the list is ordered so that each number is larger than the number to its left the user should click. (So, for instance, the user should click if presented with my example list, but not if it had read 10, 8, 21, 31.) This forces the user to make multiple evaluations (three, specifically) to solve the problem.

When Word is Not Animal + Color Match combines two previous challenges. This is meant to allow a user to see if evaluating two different challenges is harder than evaluating just one, and if the difficulty is additive. This one can be used alongside When List Ascending to see the difference between the same evaluation multiple times (“is this number larger than the one on its left?”) and multiple types of evaluations. In this case, in case this is unclear, a colored square and some text will appear as in When Colors Match. However, unlike When Colors Match the text will be a word. When this word is not the name of an animal and is also the same color as the colored square then the user should click.

All of these challenges together are meant to allow a user to evaluate the time required to perform a whole suite of mental tasks as well as to evaluate how combining tasks affects processing time. There are definitely other options that could be added, although this set seemed to me to capture most of the main comparisons I was interested in. However, I welcome feedback if there are additional challenges that could be added to capture new dimensions of mental processing.

  1. “As it might appear” because I actually just used a reduced screen size on a computer to force everything together for the shot

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