FALL, 2000

Time to Think?

One phenomenon suggesting the dependence of biological activities on "physical" processes is that such activities take finite amounts of time, rather than occuring instantaneously. Using a computer based measurement system students explored the issue of whether "thinking" takes time, and whether different kinds of thinking take different amounts of time. Actual data from the Tuesday section is available here and for the Wednesday section here.

Katie Kennedy

Questions and Answers

1. Does it take time to think?

YES- Because of the difference between the Act time and Think time (and that it took longer to think than to act) we can draw the conclusion that yes, it does take time to think.

2. a. Is there a person to person variation in the reaction time?

YES- The data concludes that this is so as there are significant differences between different people's data.

b. Is there a person to person variation in the think time?

YES- The data concludes that this is so as there are significant differences between different people's data.

3. Are variations correlated? Does a person with a long reaction time have a long thinking time?

No- It looks as though they are independent. Though you may have a slow reaction time, you do not necessarily have a long thinking time. However, remember that thinking does take more time than acting, so a person with a slow reacting time will never have a faster (in terms of milliseconds) thinking time than their reacting time.

When thinking in more complex terms, like thinking and reading, or thinking, reading, and negating, does each activity added take more time?

YES and NO- Data says yes, it does take more time to think and read than think alone. However, some data reflected that some people took less time to think, read, and negate than think and read.

We tested our own reaction, thinking, reading, and negating times on and came up with data that answered the questions posed in lab.

Personal Data:

Act Times (in milliseconds): 331, 331, 393, 333, 399, 393, 401, 335, 359, 339

Think, Act Times (in milliseconds): 400, 332, 398, 398, 464, 413, 399, 410, 335, 325

Read, Think, Act Times (in milliseconds): 671, 526, 539, 524, 663, 526, 527, 404, 459, 397

Read, Negate-Think, Act Times (in milliseconds): 469, 471, 400, 530, 476, 468, 473, 543, 527, 404

Act Time: 361 30 milliseconds

Think, Act Time: 387 42 milliseconds

Read, Think, Act Time: 523 88 milliseconds

Read, Think-Negate, Act Time: 476 46 milliseconds

Time to Act: 361 30 milliseconds

Time to Think: 26 52 milliseconds

Time to Read: 136 98 milliseconds

Time to Negate: -47 100 milliseconds


Elizabeth Paluska and Adria Robbin

Today we began with the question, is there a distinction between the brain and the mind?

We discussed how in the late 1800s the brain and mind were considered to be separate. The brain was considered to consist of matter and energy, while the mind was considered to be of ethereal, and have no matter or energy.

We began with the assumption that any process involving energy and matter takes time. Thus, if we could prove that thinking takes time, we could prove that the brain and mind consist of energy and matter.

Hypothesis: average time taken should be greater as task level increases in difficulty.

Observations: Our observations did not disprove our hypothesis. We each found that as the tasks got more difficult, the thinking, reaction, and reading time all increased.

The only exception to this was Elizabeth's average for "Read, Think-Negate, Act" time, which was lower than her "Read, Think, Act" time and according to our hypothesis it should have been greater.


Shah Aashna Hossain

It can be asserted from the results of this experiment that it does indeed take time to think, and that different types of thinking take different amounts of time to process. However, there is no correlation between the different times: different types of thinking take different times for different people - for example, it will not necessarily take someone who takes a long time to think a long time to react as well, and vice-versa.

It appears that for me, the type of thinking process that takes longest to execute seems to be taking action. The second-longest activity to execute is reading; the third, thinking; and the activity that takes the shortest amount of time to execute is negating.


Act Times (in milliseconds): 370, 363, 368, 361, 373, 371, 311, 378, 372, 371

Think, Act Times (in milliseconds): 369, 488, 432, 426, 424, 373, 451, 452, 386, 379

Read, Think, Act Times (in milliseconds): 520, 599, 526, 446, 519, 457, 454, 529, 531, 531

Read, Negate-Think, Act Times (in milliseconds): 534, 477, 543, 542, 517, 536, 509, 530, 515, 600

Act Time: 363 19 milliseconds

Think, Act Time: 418 38 milliseconds

Read, Think, Act Time: 511 45 milliseconds

Read, Think-Negate, Act Time: 530 30 milliseconds

Time to Act: 363 19 milliseconds

Time to Think: 55 43 milliseconds

Time to Read: 93 59 milliseconds

Time to Negate: 19 55 milliseconds


Sujatha Sebastian and Gloria Ramon

Does thinking take time?

From the data gathered in the class it is obvious that thinking takes time because the data gathered in case 2 shows that when one has to think about the reaction it takes more time. We can also see from the data that different kinds of thinking take different amounts of time. The time variations did not depend on the thinking complexity.

Does thinking time and complexity vary from person to person?

Yes, because it is obvious by looking at the data. No two times are alike and the greater variations between the data are at least by one hundred milliseconds.

Is there a correlation between thinking and reaction time?

There does not seem to be a correlation between the thinking and reaction times. They seem to be independent of each other because we cannot find any similarities within the data


Katie Kaczmarek and Rachel Hochberg

We knew before we started the experiment that thinking takes time (because we've done the Time to Think program before!), and our data confirms this, because they are all greater than the times to act. There is no correlation between reaction time and thinking time, nor is there a correlation between think time and reaction time. Different people had different times for reacting and thinking. A person who had a fast reaction time did not necessarily have fast thinking, reading and negating times; there was no correlation between reacting and thinking. These measures are all independent.


Susy Jones, Katie Gallagher, and Jill McCain

Q. Does thinking take time?

A. The class data indicates that thinking indeed takes time. We evaluated three different tests for thinking (thinking, reading, and negating). If reading and negating are considered similar types of thinking, we can conclude that each successive test took more time. Negating can be considered a type of reading if the participant trains herself to look for key words in the direction as opposed to interpreting its meaning.

Q. Is there variation from person to person?

A. Yes. Even when considering the standard deviation, our data indicates that different people take different time to think, read and negate.

Q. Is there a correlation between thinking and reaction time?

A. We did not find any correlation between reaction time and subsequent thinking times.


Clare Lindner and Sarah Naimzadeh

This lab is a continuation of the lab that we did last week, a lab on respiration rate and heart rate. One of the groups opted to try to measure respiration rate and heart rate while thinking, prompting the question "does thinking require energy?" The opinion of the class seems to be that yes, thinking. Like most pursuits, does require energy. This consensus then leads to several other questions:

1) Does thinking require time?

2) Is there variation in think and reaction times between people? Is there variation between the times of the same person?

3) Is reaction time related to think times?

Clare and I both agreed that thinking does require time. We also agreed that more complex problems require more thought and thus, more time. We also thought that there would be variation in times for different trials and different people. With respect to the third question, we were not convinced that reaction time is an indicator of think time, but there is probably a relationship.

The experiment: Using a shockwave program, "Time to Think" ( Clare and I were able to measure our reaction time to four different scenarios.

Trial I: "Act" This trial measure reaction to the appearance of a black square. There is no variation, only black squares appear.

Trial II: "Think, Act" This trial measures reaction to the appearance of a black square but also adds in a white square. If you press the button when a white square appears, you are penalized one reaction time.

Trial III: "Read, Think, Act" This trial measures reaction time to phrases like "Press Button Now" and "Do Not Hit Button." By reacting incorrectly, you are penalized one reaction time. This trial is more difficult because it involves reading phrases rather than differentiating between two colors.

Trial IV: "Read, Think-Negate, Act" This trial asks you to read a phrase and do the opposite. Again, there is a penalty for incorrect responses.

Below is the reaction date for me and Clare:

Clare's reaction data:

P>Act Times (in milliseconds): 426, 416, 430, 421, 421, 625, 419, 420, 422, 344

Think, Act Times (in milliseconds): 497, 754

Read, Think, Act Times (in milliseconds): 704, 635, 639, 659

Read, Negate-Think, Act Times (in milliseconds): 1126, 996, 1008, 991, 936, 1475, 1195

Act Time: 434 68 milliseconds

Think, Act Time: 625 129 milliseconds

Read, Think, Act Time: 659 28 milliseconds

Read, Think-Negate, Act Time: 1103 173 milliseconds

Time to Act: 434 68 milliseconds

Time to Think: 191 146 milliseconds

Time to Read: 34 133 milliseconds

Time to Negate: 444 176 milliseconds

Sarah's reaction data:

Act Times (in milliseconds): 435, 404, 417, 480, 429, 690, 420, 338, 432, 419

Think, Act Times (in milliseconds): 408, 428, 618, 480, 479, 482, 480, 421, 418, 417

Read, Think, Act Times (in milliseconds): 516, 841, 704, 644, 572, 1055, 508, 572, 978, 495

Read, Negate-Think, Act Times (in milliseconds): 923, 522, 710, 861, 592, 528, 459, 777, 745, 654

Act Time: 446 88 milliseconds

Think, Act Time: 463 60 milliseconds

Read, Think, Act Time: 688 193 milliseconds

Read, Think-Negate, Act Time: 677 146 milliseconds

Time to Act: 446 88 milliseconds

Time to Think: 17 107 milliseconds

Time to Read: 225 203 milliseconds

Time to Negate: -11 243 milliseconds

Conclusions and responses:

Clare's reaction rates make sense to us. As the trials became increasingly complex, her rates went up. It is difficult to tell how significant the time differences were as we are using milliseconds, units not entirely familiar to us. My results for the fourth trial was a little surprising as I reacted more quickly to the opposites rather than the third trial.

We had a few questions after this lab:

1. Are reaction times comparable if we all have had a different amount of sleep, food, caffeine and distraction (some of us were at the last bench and dealt with drilling during out trials)?

2) How can the second trial accurately measure reaction time? There is not action for the white square? How can you differentiate between someone who immediately recognizes the white and does not react from someone who takes time to recognize and does not react? I suppose that the difference is measured through the black square, but what if there is a difference because of color?

Class :

The class has more "normal" (expected) values on the whole. Rates increased with the increased complexity of trials.


Julie Kwon and Naomi Lim

1) Does it take time to think?

2) Is there a variation in thinking as well as variation among different people and oneself.

3) Is there a relationship between amount of time to reaction of the brain?


Used the computer program "Think" which measures how long a person reacts to certain activity.


Act Times (in milliseconds): 419, 411, 414, 411, 412, 335, 412, 331, 335, 331

Think, Act Times (in milliseconds): 493, 492, 414, 410, 411, 654, 493, 493, 411, 420

Read, Think, Act Times (in milliseconds): 671, 748, 658, 716, 715, 649, 712, 644, 957, 667

Read, Negate-Think, Act Times (in milliseconds): 683, 745, 758, 743, 584, 745, 846, 683, 815, 747

Act Time: 381 40 milliseconds

Think, Act Time: 469 73 milliseconds

Read, Think, Act Time: 713 88 milliseconds

Read, Think-Negate, Act Time: 734 70 milliseconds


Time to Act: 381 40 milliseconds

Time to Think: 88 84 milliseconds

Time to Negate: 21 113 milliseconds

Class data

Act Time: 407 51 milliseconds

Think, Act Time: 500 93 milliseconds

Read, Think, Act Time: 678 112 milliseconds

Read, Think-Negate, Act Time: 757 155.2 milliseconds




Looking at my personal data it shows that thinking does take more time and therefore as the level of thinking increases more time is needed for the brain to carry out the activity. Furthermore, the reaction rate decreases as more thinking is involved. Looking at the class data you see that the majority of the students had similar results. The average increased as the thinking process increased. Furthermore the people that had fast acting times also had fast thinking/reading times, but again, there were also some variation among all the people. There were however some instances where students fluctuated in their data showing that there is indeed a great variation among different people. The data compared to the class show that generally all people are different.


Jabeen Obaray and Srabonti Ali


Hypothesis: Thinking takes time, and therefore expends energy. The more thinking involved in a task, the longer amount of time needed.

We each took ten trials of all four cases: Act, Think-Act, Read-Think-Act and Read-Think-Negate-Act. After taking each test ten times, we plotted the data and recorded the Act time and Standard Deviation, which is how far away one is from the average.



Act Time: 318 39 milliseconds

Think, Act Time: 388 60 milliseconds

Read, Think, Act Time: 513 54 milliseconds

Read, Think-Negate, Act Time: 632 116 milliseconds

Time to Act: 318 39 milliseconds

Time to Think: 70 72 milliseconds

Time to Read: 125 81 milliseconds

Time to Negate: 119 128 milliseconds


Act Time: 317 6 milliseconds

Think, Act Time: 434 131 milliseconds

Read, Think, Act Time: 588 78 milliseconds

Read, Think-Negate, Act Time: 575 122 milliseconds

Time to Act: 317 6 milliseconds

Time to Think: 117 132 milliseconds

Time to Read: 154 153 milliseconds

Time to Negate: -13 145 milliseconds

Conclusion: According to the class data cases 1,2 and 3 supported the hypothesis. However case 4 did not support the hypotheses because it involved negative numbers. According to the hypothesis, case 4 would have taken more time because it involved reading, and then processing the thought of negating what we had read. Srabonti's data agreed with the class data however Jabeen's data did not agree.


Meghan McCabe and Nimia Barrera


1. Does it take time to think?

2. Is there variation in think/reaction times between people or for the same person?

3. Is reaction time related to think time?


1. We believe thinking to be a physical process, and like any physical process, it will take time.

2. We believe that there will be differences in reaction times between people because no two people are alike and think differently. We also expect there to be variation for the same person, because as that person gets accustomed to the experiment, she will react quicker.

3. We believe reaction time and think time are related because the amount it takes to process a thought or command determines the amount of time to react to it.


The experiment involved four sets of observations. First we would have to press a button when a black box appeared on the screen. The computer would record the reaction time. Then a black box and a white box would appear on the screen but we would only press the button when the black box appeared. The computer would then record the reaction time. Thirdly, a command would appear on the screen and we followed the command, with the computer recording reaction time. Fourth, a command would appear on the screen and we would do the opposite, with the computer recording the reaction time. We each did each set of observation ten times. The averages are as follows:


Case 1


Case 2


Case 3


Case 4











































As the experiments became more complex, and as we had to think more, Meghan's reaction time increased. This suggests that thinking is a physical process and takes time. However, Nimia's read, think and negate time was faster than her read, think and react time. This could suggest that Nimia negates faster than she thinks and reacts. Several other people in the class had similar observations to Nimia, but this data does not really support that some people might negate faster than they read and think.

Given the variation between Nimia and Meghan, the variation among each person, and the variation among class results, it appears that there is variation between think and reaction times among people as well as the same person.

Based on our observations, we believe that think time is related to reaction time, because generally as the experiments and thinking became more complex, reaction time increased. This seemed fairly consistent with class results as well.


Leila Ghaznavi and Promise Partner

Today in bio lab we asked three questions about our mind. Does it take time to think? And if so, is there a variation in think/rx times between people? Differences in reaction times for the same person? The final question we asked was reaction time related to think time?

In order to find the answer to these questions we used a program on Serendip that offered us four different challenges. We had to first just click a button if a shape appeared. Then click the button only if the shape was dark. The third task was to follow the directions, i.e. to click or not click the button according to the command given to us. The last task was to do the opposite of whatever the computer told us to do. For example, if the computer said click the button we were not to click the button.

Both Promises and Leila's results showed an increase in reaction time according to level of difficulty of the task. More processes seemed to require more reaction time. There was a flux in Leila's data. Her last task, the most complicated one supposedly, went down in time instead of up. She either responds well to negativity or was simply able to reroute her brain for a little while. This noted increase in complexity of though/reaction time leds to conclude that it does take time to think. Leila appears to have an overall quicker reaction time than Promise which means that there are variances in thought/ reaction times between people and there also variances within each person. We took ten trials for each test and each result varied slightly from the last.

This leaves us with the third question, is reaction time related to think time? Our conclusion is yes. Reaction time is a physical response to think time. Thus if takes longer to think it is going to take longer for the body to react. The actual movement itself may have the same time limit but when the movement starts will be delayed.

The classes data followed ours. Act time was shorter than think react, which was shorter than read think react, which was shorter than read think negate act time. There were several other people in the class who also had lower negate times than their read think react times. We questioned whether or not this was because some people were better at negation but Leila proposed a hypothesis that the TA liked which was that there are only two or three negative commands but seven to eight positive commands. Thus a person can train their eyes to watch only for the two negative commands and thus increasing their time. With the numerous positive times it requires you to stop and read through them before hitting.

The class results showed that the two variables of think time and reaction time are independent of each other. The fastest reactors were not necessarily the fastest thinkers.


Jenny Wilson and Trudell Smith

Question: Does it take time to think?

Is there variation in think-reaction times between people or for same person?

Is there a correlation between act and think times?

Experiment: 4 cases: 1) act; 2) think, act; 3) read, think, act; 4) read, think-negate, act

10 trials per person



Case 1

Case 2

Case 3

Case 4




500 ms




Std. Dev.

74 ms












Std. Dev.






Based on our results, we can conclude that numerous factors affect reaction time. It takes time to think, but this may affected by inattention resulting from lack of sleep, external stimuli, and other factors (food, etc).

There is a variation in think-reaction time for the same person. This may be a result of the above listed factors, coupled with tedium (repetitive tasks). Between people, there is a clear variation. This may result from a number of factors, including reading level, reading comprehension, and overall alertness.

According to our results there is no definitive correlation between act and think times. However, statistical methods may prove otherwise.


Debbie Plotnick and Jackie Rowlett

Hypothesis : It takes time to think.

In order to test this hypothesis we timed our reactions to the following:

1) Act (simple reaction)

2) Think, Act (distinguishing between two colors, then reacting)

3) Read, Think, Act (read the instructions and react, act)

4) Read, Think, Negate (read instructions, do the opposite)


P>Debbie's Reaction Times

Act Times (in milliseconds): 433, 658, 419, 578, 659, 412, 413, 495, 660, 585

Think, Act Times (in milliseconds): 574, 578, 578, 578, 578, 496, 521, 577, 659, 577

Read, Think, Act Times (in milliseconds): 751, 834, 834, 835, 929, 588, 4405, 750, 915, 751

Read, Negate-Think, Act Times (in milliseconds): 1173, 1905, 1239, 1156, 767, 2959, 1979, 1323, 1496, 913

Act Time: 531 103 milliseconds

Think, Act Time: 571 41 milliseconds

Read, Think, Act Time: 1159 1086 milliseconds

Read, Think-Negate, Act Time: 1491 611 milliseconds

Time to Act: 531 103 milliseconds

Time to Think: 40 111 milliseconds

Time to Read: 588 1087 milliseconds

Time to Negate: 332 1247 milliseconds

Jakki's Reaction Times

Act Times (in milliseconds): 411, 411, 409, 413, 412, 411, 408, 411, 413, 407

Think, Act Times (in milliseconds): 409, 408, 572, 651, 573, 488, 409, 407, 574, 488

Read, Think, Act Times (in milliseconds): 548, 776, 637, 682, 864, 618, 567, 1320, 764, 623

Read, Negate-Think, Act Times (in milliseconds): 1150, 955, 665, 876, 1086, 876, 879, 551, 862, 552

Act Time: 410 2 milliseconds

Think, Act Time: 497 86 milliseconds

Read, Think, Act Time: 739 216 milliseconds

Read, Think-Negate, Act Time: 845 193 milliseconds

Time to Act: 410 2 milliseconds

Time to Think: 87 87 milliseconds

Time to Read: 242 233 milliseconds

Time to Negate: 106 290 milliseconds


Observations of both our team data and overall class data bears out the hypothesis that the thinking does take time. Furthermore, in general the more complex the thought process required the more time it takes. However, one anamalous finding was that some people actually reacted more quickly in negation than in straightforward read/react. Several theories about why this may have occurred were offered

1) Sampling is affected by the "penalty" factor.

2) By focusing on the words "do not" and "don't" aids in reaction.

3) Possibly people are just quicker to negate

4) The amount of practice one has had by that point.

Jessica Hayes-Conroy, Allison Hayes-Conroy, and Jeanne Braha

The questions we were trying to answer in this lab have to do with whether or not thinking is a physical process. We decided that if thinking is a physical process, it should take time. Therefore, we wanted to test the hypothesis that it takes time to think.

To do this, we used the program on the serendip website called "Time to Think." This program measures how long it takes for people to act, think and act, read, think, and act, and read, think, negate, and act.

According to our hypothesis, each additional thought process should add on time to the original acting time. Except for one deviation, our data agreed with this idea. Our times went up with each thought process that was added to the task.

We concluded that, according to this test, it does take time to think. However, the times recorded for acting, thinking, reading, and negating all differ from trial to trial and person to person. Also, the data didn't appear to support the idea that people who react faster also think faster.

We came up with several reasons why the data we collected might not be correct. For one, since we each did the tasks asked of us ten times each, the data could show an improvement as our skills as we practiced the task. Also, the program does not completely take in to account guessers--people who hit the button before thinking or even acting; instead, the guess what the command will be, and their results are based on luck.

In comparing our data to the class data, both collections are very similar. In general, the time it took to do each task increased as the tasks involved more and more thinking. Some of the class data for negating, like one of ours, took less time instead of more time. This could possibly be due to error, and possibly it takes some people less time to negate a thought than just think it.