It's claimed that the average human reaction time in response to a visual stimulus is 0.25 seconds (https://backyardbrains.com/experiments/reactiontime). This article by Mcleod (1987) may be a better, more reliable benchmark for my question, as it comes from a more reputable source and states both the low and high bounds of tested human reaction times (p. 49):

Traditional laboratory estimates suggest that it takes from 200-300 ms to pick up visual information about an uncertain event in the outside world and to use this to initiate an appropriate action

Do we know/have any way of knowing what percentage of this time is taken up by any given part of the reaction process? aka how much time is the eye converting what it sees, how much is the nerve signals doing their job and reporting to or from the brain, how much time does the brain spend processing, how much is the time the muscles take to contract, etc.?

I've been recently studying reaction times, so would be really interested in the breakdown of this total given time between the various processes involved. Can anyone help me out with this?

McLeod, P. (1987). Visual reaction time and high-speed ball games. Perception, 16(1), 49-59.


1 Answer 1


Complex reaction times have been extensively studied and broken down into underlying processing stages. Sternberg (1969) [Acta Psychologica, 30, 276-315.] was one of the first systematic attempts at using reaction time to understanding cognitive processing. For simple reaction times (like responding to a brief sound or light), Botwinick (1966) [Journal of Experimental Psychology, 71(1), 9-15.] split reaction time into pre-motor and motor components and found the motor component accounted for 50 ms of a simple reaction time task that took about 250 ms. I am not aware of anyone who has split apart the remaining 200 ms into addiitional stages.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Not sure I have time to dig up the references right now but the remaining time has definitely been split into additional stages. $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause
    Apr 1, 2019 at 15:22
  • $\begingroup$ @BryanKrause would like to see the references when you get a chance. It is not really my area of expertise so I bet some stuff has been done since the late 60s. $\endgroup$
    – StrongBad
    Apr 1, 2019 at 17:28
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you! I'll take some time to read through those. @BryanKrause I'd be really interested in those references if you ever get a chance. $\endgroup$
    – MarielS
    Apr 3, 2019 at 1:40

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.