Quick on the draw

04 February 2010

It may seem an unlikely topic of research for one of the fathers of modern physics, but Neils Bohr (who, when he wasn’t pondering the structure of the atom, loved to watch a good Western) often wondered why the man who draws first in a shoot out is always the one who gets shot.  Now, scientists based at the University of Birmingham have uncovered scientific evidence to suggest why this is the case, which may have surprising implications for the study of Parkinson’s disease.

The research, published this week in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, did not involve gunfights, but tested subject’s reactions in a game where they were required to initiate or react to an opponent’s movements on a keypad.  The research team, led by Andrew Welchman at the University of Birmingham, found that the person who reacted to movements rather than initiating them tended to perform the movements much more quickly than their counterpart, suggesting that the person who draws last in a shootout has a natural advantage.

Neurological studies have already indicated that different processing routes in the brain may be responsible for reactive movements and initiated movements, and the authors suggest that their research confirms this idea.  It has also been suggested that the same area of the brain is implicated in Parkinson’s disease, where differences between reactive and intentional movement become more pronounced, and the authors propose that further research in this area may prove fruitful.

To read the full paper click here.