Sensory Reaction Rates Differing between Men and Women


Meagan Goulian, Daniel Coloccia, Charles Fehring, Stephanie Geller


CU Boulder, Fall 2005

We tested the different reaction rates of men and women.  Based on the theory of Natural Selection, created by Charles Darwin, we know that only the strongest or best adapted will survive.  This implies that the environment shapes a
person’s reaction time and other behaviors, making it possible for them to
survive in nature.  In addition, we have previously learned through history, that men and women had different roles in society.  Men were mostly the hunters, often working in an environment that required constant sensory attention.  Men also played the role of the warrior.  On the other hand, women mostly tended to housework and raising children, often in a domestic environment that was much more relaxed and stable.  By looking at Darwin’s theory, only men with the best sensory reactions would have survived their environments, however, the natural selection was not as strict for women. Since Darwin’s theory states that only the strong will survive, the strongest traits will be passed from generation to generation.  Over time we hypothesized that the reaction times will have improved significantly but differently among gender. Therefore, we predicted that men will have quicker sensory reactions because of their previous roles in society than women.

In order to test this hypothesis, we tested two sensory reactions, including light and sound reactions.  In addition, we used two males and two females.  We used a device called a reaction timer, which tested both reactions to light and sound.
The reaction timer had four different lights with a button for each light and a
button for sound.  One person controlled the reaction timer and one person was
tested.  Each person participated in seven trials.  The person controlling the
reaction timer selected whether light or sound would be tested.  The person
being tested had to press a button on the reaction timer as soon as they saw a
light light up or heard a sound.  The reaction timer then recorded the speed in
which they reacted.  The same person controlled the reaction timer for three out
of four of the tests.  We then predicted that men would have a quicker reaction
time then women due to their roles in the past and natural selection.

Our results supported our predictions by showing a significant difference in
the reaction time of men (mean= .4491 sec) and women (mean= .7418 sec; t=2.160, P<0.05).  We also showed there was a significant difference between men (mean= .501 sec) and women (mean= .9151 sec) for light (t=2.262 , P<0.05) and between men (mean= .39725 sec) and women (mean= .5685 sec) for sound( t= 3.182, P<0.05).

In comparison with our results other people have gotten similar findings.
Since there were no groups to compare to on the course webpage, we looked for
similar experiments on the web.  We found that in almost all cases men have a
quicker reaction time than women.  Here this website states, “At the risk of
being politically incorrect, in almost every age group, males have faster
reaction times than females, and female disadvantage is not reduced by practice
(Noble et al., 1964; Welford, 1980; Adam et al., 1999; Dane and Erzurumlugoglu,
2003). Bellis (1933) reported that mean time to press a key in response to a
light was 220 msec for males and 260 msec for females; for sound the difference
was 190 msec (males) to 200 msec (females). In comparison, Engel (1972) reported a reaction time to sound of 227 msec (male) to 242 msec (female),” (Kosinski).

Therefore our results were consistent with our hypothesis and our predictions.
Our results showed that men had an overall faster reaction time than women did.
However, there were problems with our experiment. Principally, in order to improve our results we could have tested more males and females of all different ages. In addition, when testing for the light and sound reactions, we only tested each person twice for sound and five times for light.  This is an unequal representation of the sensory reactions.  We also had one person control the reaction timer for three out of the four tests. We should have had one person control the reaction timer for two tests and another person for the other two tests.  By doing this there would have been less variability because the two people controlling the reaction timer would be equally comfortable with it and understand the way it worked equally.  We also did all of the tests with the lights on.  So we do not know if there would have been a difference in reaction time between men and women in a dark environment. Also we could have tested a certain number of athletes, non-athletes, or people with different GPAs, regardless of gender.  We feel that if we accounted for these variables in our experiments our results would have been more accurate.