ECLC Preschool Reaction Time

Julia, Natali, Sam

What is reaction and why we chose this

Reaction time is a measure of the quickness an organism responds to some sort of stimulus. Reaction times are rarely reported in developmental psychology even though they are one of the first indicators of a child's neural maturity and information processing system. As future educators and parents we wanted a first hand experience in testing and observing young children.

Stanford Research Project

Historically, scientists who have theorized about what that neural processing looks like have come up with something resembling the current “rise-to-threshold” hypothesis:

Person anticipates “go” signal. The anticipation (“planning”) causes neurons to begin firing–not enough to cause movement, but enough to prep for it.

Person receives “go” signal (pain from hot stove, gunshot signifying beginning of race). Neurons fire like crazy, initiating motion (“execution”).

However, using new technology, researchers at Stanford have been able to look at reaction time more in depth, and their data is deviating from the traditional hypothesis.

"According to the release, reaction time has little to do with how long the “planning” period lasts, and a lot to do with the trajectory of the neural activity in the brain. The concept is fairly simple: the closer the neurons that fire during planning are to the neurons that must fire to initiate execution, the shorter the reaction time. The Stanford team was able to create a highly accurate model of what the reaction of any arm motion would be based on the accompanying neural activity."


Day 1: Red Light, Green Light

On the first day, Sam and Julia met with as many students as possible to test reaction time. We used an app called Reaction Test; it tested the visual reaction time, with a built in timer. The children we played with were excited to touch the iPhone and frequently would touch the screen before it was time. We modeled how to operate the game, and the children were able to wait and press the button at the right time. Observe how hard some of them are concentrating in the videos, you can see their fingers moving while they waited for the red light.


We decided it would be great to not only test visual reaction time, but auditory and physical reaction time as well. The following meeting times at the ECLC we used different reaction tests, trying to get the same students to participate so we could compare their times in each category.

Day 2: Buzzer

We introduced a new reaction game with the kids, one that would test auditory reactions; we gave them paper puppets they could raise in the air at the sound of a buzzer . We let them choose different characters as a way to encourage them to participate with us. They were instructed to listen for the buzzer and raise their puppet as soon as they heard the sound. We played the sound before hand so they would know exactly what to listen for. We started the timer at the buzzer, and stopped it when they moved their hand.

Day 3: Ruler

The Ruler Reaction Time test determined how fast a student could grab a dropping ruler by measuring the point of interception. The test used both a visual and physical stimulus. The test was very challenging for the students, and we attempted to modify it by using a large yard stick, however, it ended up being too challenging to determine the correct measurement. We also retested with the previous methods to gather data on different days.


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We tested our own reaction time with the Red Light, Green Light test and the ruler test.


Sam-.323 sec

Julia-.34 sec

Natali-.39 sec

This is also the order by age..interesting.

Ruler Test

Sam-130 milliseconds (Superb)

Julia-140 milliseconds (Excellent)

Natali-240 milliseconds (Average)

Also in order by age.

What does some of the research say?

Implications in the classroom

As education majors, we were interested in reaction time, and what it could teach us about behavior in the classroom.


From birth, the female ear is more sensitive to sound and can hear quieter sounds and higher-pitched sounds than can the male ear (The ECLC was noisy and a lot was going on, making it harder to hear the buzzer go off) (Cassidy & Ditty, 2001; Corso, 1959). Boys tolerate louder sounds better than girls do (Elliott, 1971; McFadden, 1998), but girls are better than boys are at determining changes in intensity of sound (Velle, 1987). Infant girls are more responsive to auditory stimulation than are their male peers (Velle). Girls may find a noisy classroom distracting, but they are better able to discern emotional state from someone’s voice.


While girls have better auditory acuity, boys have better visual acuity (Processing what color the phone screen is displaying), and while boys tolerate sound better (hearing the buzzer, raising their paddle), girls tolerate light better (McGuiness, 1976; Velle, 1987). However, even though boys may see better at a distance, particularly when the object is moving, girls can remember more items in a picture. When girls look at the same picture after some of the items have been moved, they will be more accurate in finding the moved items than boys (Kimura, 2000).

Girls also show better perceptual speed than boys do. This is the ability to look at similar items and locate the one item that is different, a skill that is useful in proofreading. This ability to find errors is one of the reasons girls generally are more willing to check their work (Kimura, 2000; Majeres, 1999). While research indicates that adult males have better visual memory than females, as children, girls have better visual memory, probably because of the differences in brain maturation (Vuontela et al., 2003). Additionally, several areas in vision have significant gender differences as well.

Color Vision. (Red Light Green Light)

Most individuals identified with color blindness (whether the more common red-green variety or the rarer blue-yellow variety) are male. It is rare for a female student to have imperfect color vision, but the condition does appear in women. Color blindness is not the lack of color vision but the inability to differentiate between the paired colors of either red and green or blue and yellow. Individuals with red-green color blindness frequently can’t see a difference in color between the top and bottom lights on a traffic signal, as they may see red and green as the same color. You can use the colors in class as color-blind students will see them, just don’t use red and green to differentiate similar items, such as providing a red bin for homework and a green bin for permission slips.

Input of Information

Ability to follow directions and complete the tasks correctly.

One way for information to enter the brain is by listening, and we have already noted that females are more sensitive to auditory stimuli and are better able to determine differences in volume than males (Velle, 1987). The research on gender differences in auditory memory indicates that females are slightly better than males at retaining information when the stimulus is heard (Geffen, Moar, Hanlon, Clark, & Geffen, 1990; Trahan & Quintana, 1990). This may be the reason why lectures work well as a method to transmit information for most women. If girls have more sensitive hearing, then it follows that receiving information by listening (We verbally explained each of the tasks, observed that girls would make eye contact and listened to what we were saying, then performed) can be an effective learning technique for them. There is some evidence that girls’ auditory as well as their visual working memory develops before that of boys (Vuontela et al., 2003).

Taking reaction time results and applying to teaching

We took the data on reaction time, and thought about how it could indicate learning styles in the children. As teachers, finding out the learning style of our individual students is very important because it allows us to make modifications to our lessons, so each student has the best chance to succeed.
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Observable learning modalities and their obstacles

Kinesthetic Learners: Movement


  • Sitting still and completing solo tasks
  • Listening
  • Controlling impulses--Red Light Green Light- some children weren’t able to control their impulse and would press the button too soon. When working with the Ruler, some children would clasp their fingers/hand too soon. (observed that some were ancy)
  • Recalling what was seen or heard
  • Recalling visual images--Seeing the correct color to press the button
  • Sticking with one activity for long periods--We wanted children to complete the activites three times, some weren’t able to sit there long enough

Possible Modifications

  • Activities that involve movement
  • Large motor skill activities
  • Physical relaxation exercises
  • Hands-on activities, working with manipulatives when we used the
    paddles and/or rulers, some of the students were distracted with the maniplulative causing them to be unable to complete the task, while others students were drawn to the paddles and were interested in doing the task.
  • Frequent changes of learning groups

Tactual Learners: Hands on manipulation


  • Keeping hands still
  • Working in groups that do not include friends-observed that some children would come and participate if one of their friends were
  • Succeeding without lots of sensory stimuli and the opportunity to touch and feel

Possible Modifications

  • Working with manipulatives Paddles, ruler, phone for RL GL
  • Small group interactions- on occassion we would have more than one student at a time
  • Personal expression, such as sharing time and journal writing
  • Discussion of emotional issues

Auditory Learners: Listening


  • Concentrating when background noises or music sounds are present-ECLC at recess, loud and many other groups were doing things as well
  • Taking timed tests that must be read and written
  • Following written directions

Possible Modifications

  • Listening to oral instructions
  • Music, raps, and sound effects-I.E. Hearing the buzzer
  • Reading aloud

Visual Learners: Seeing


  • Following oral directions
  • Working in an environment with noise or movement
  • Working in a classroom with too much visual stimulation
  • Listening to lectures without visual pictures or graphics

Possible Modifications

  • Graphic organizers
  • Visual arts, such as painting and collages
  • Demonstrations and observations

Final Thoughts

    • We think the outcomes would have been different (improved) had we of been more secluded and in an environment that wasn’t as noisy (ECLC at recess), possibly during class time
    • As future educators, we believe it is important to know and understand each individual child’s background. Knowing such information, allows you to better adapt to that child and meet their specific needs. (i.e. Day 1 we didn’t know anything about the children. But after interacting with them we were able to better understand them Day 2 and Day 3. Such as, some children work better when there is a reward (stamp) and/or praise, “good job” or even a high five; others are more introverted/shy and participated when we showed them that their friend was doing it
    • If we were to continue with this project, it would be interesting to take the reaction time data, make a prediction about the individual learning style of the student, and test those predictions.


    Kiselev, S., Espy, K., & Sheffield, T. (2009). Age-related differences in reaction time task performance in young children. Journal Of Experimental Child Psychology, 102(2), 150-166.

    Lange-Küttner, C. (2012). The importance of reaction times for developmental science: What a difference milliseconds make. International Journal Of Developmental Science, 6(1-2), 51-55.

    McClelland, M., Acock, A., Piccinin, A., Rhea, S., & Stallings, M. (2013). Relations between preschool attention span-persistence and age 25 educational outcomes. Early Childhood Research Quarterly,28(2), 314-324.

    Powell, W., & Powell, O. (2016). Knowing Our Students as Learners. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Retrieved 11 March 2016, from

    Stanford researchers uncover the neural process behind reaction time -