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Elife. 2017 Jul 28;6. pii: e28075. doi: 10.7554/eLife.28075.

Reaction times can reflect habits rather than computations.

Author information

Department of Neurology, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, United States.
Department of Biostatistics, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, New York, United States.
Department of Neuroscience, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, United States.


Reaction times (RTs) are assumed to reflect the underlying computations required for making decisions and preparing actions. Recent work, however, has shown that movements can be initiated earlier than typically expressed without affecting performance; hence, the RT may be modulated by factors other than computation time. Consistent with that view, we demonstrated that RTs are influenced by prior experience: when a previously performed task required a specific RT to support task success, this biased the RTs in future tasks. This effect is similar to the use-dependent biases observed for other movement parameters such as speed or direction. Moreover, kinematic analyses revealed that these RT biases could occur without changing the underlying computations used to perform the action. Thus the RT is not solely determined by computational requirements but is an independent parameter that can be habitually set by prior experience.


bias; habit; human; neuroscience; reaction time; trajectory planning; use-dependent plasticity

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