Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Bio 103, Lab 8: Onself as a Biological Entity. III. Thinking

Paul Grobstein's picture
In the previous two labs in this series, we've discovered that human behavior takes time, in part because it involves things happening successively in several different parts of an individual, that these happenings can be influenced by a variety of external variables but also to varying degrees by internal ones, and that "thinking" may be a relevant internal variable. We have also, hopefully, become more sophisticated at posing questions, collecting observations relevant to them, and interpreting such observations in relation to questions.

In this lab we want to further build on our experiences by investigating "thinking" itself. Is "thinking" also something that takes time? that can be altered by both external and internal variables? Its an interesting question, first asked explicitly in the late 1800's with a very clever set of observations then requiring elaborate equipment. Today we can make the same observations more easily using computers, as in Serendip's Time to Think exhibit.

The observational set up allows one to measure various kinds of thinking, as well as to test hypotheses about how they are related to one another. Once you get the hang of it, you can/should develop your own hypotheses about what might or might not influence the various kinds of thinking time. And develop your own experiments. Do one as a group in class. And you're free to do additional ones any place you can find a computer.

Remember that we've reached a phase where we'd like to have our hypotheses and observations sufficiently in hand so that we can generate interesting and well-supported interpretations that in turn lead on to further questions and observations.

LaKesha's picture

Lakesha, Shanika, Sharhea

Below is our base line data before we added any outside variables:


  Case 1 Case 2 Case 3 Case 4 Act Think Read Negate
Shanika 192 241 580 534 192 49 339 -46
LaKesha 205 267 681 559 205 62 414 -122
Sharhea 267 536 618 723 267 269 82 105


In our basline data we noticed that in two of the cases, negating was negative. We felt that negating happened because we were able negate faster than we were able to read. This suggests that we are good at multi-tasking.

We then decided to add listening to music to see how our results would differ. We hypothesized that for Shanika her times would increase because music is a distraction for her, whereas for LaKesha music would decrease her times because it helps her to concentrate.

Our results are as follows:


Shanika 241 279 638 578 241 38 359 -60
LaKesha 165 242 39 356 165 77 197 -83


Our results proved our hyposthesis to be true because Shanika's times did increase, whereas LaKesha's times decreased. Shanika data for her THINK and NEGATE actually decreased, which could be contributed to the idea that she has done these exercises previously. She has already have a trained mind. The idea that we love to multi-tasking can also contribute to the changes.


LuisanaT's picture

The voice of persuasion!

Luisana Taveras and Rachel Mabe


The train of thought is suspectible to deviate. We are prone to losing focus when there are outside influences that prolongs the final thought process and therefore reaction to a certain stimulus. For this reason we are testing whether or not disturbing the peace gets in the way of the "thinking time". We propose that by adding an outside factor as another task in each case, the thinking process will be longer.


Act Act with disturbance

283 (standard deviation of 57) vs 381 (150)

Think Think with disturbance

397 (75) vs 470(132)

Read Read with disturbance

483 (87) vs 879 (141)

Negate Negate with disturbance

590 (48) vs 821 (230)



Luisana (avg mili sec)

Act Act with disturbance

298 vs 381

Think Think with disturbance

367 vs 407

Read Read with disturbance

571 vs 594

Negate Read with disturbance

674 vs 764



Based on the data we collected, thinking is definitly a process that takes time. The more energy needed to focus on the direct stimulus has a direct correlation with the amount of time it takes to process that stimulus and react to it accordingly. The more successive task needed to be accomplished, the longer it will take for the reaction to be executed. Both internal and external forces can add stress/ pressure/etc and as a result affect not only the reaction time but the accuracy in reacting. The immense increase i in the standard deviation with disturbances works to supports this idea.

ekoike's picture

Crystal and Eri's Adventures with Tetris

Crystal and Eri

Our initial hypothesis is that the more physically distracted a subject is, the more variability and larger standard deviation there is in the results.


We decided to play tetris on a cell phone with their non-dominant hand while doing the reaction time experiment on the computer in order to see how doing two separate things at once will affect the reaction times.


Case 1: 318; SD: 61 (N/A)

Case 2: 323; SD: 30 (N/A)

Case 3: 616; SD: 211 (Mistakes: 4)

Case 4: 787; SD: 487 (Mistakes: 2)


Case 1: 567; SD: 159 (Mistakes: 1)

Case 2: 655; SD: 321 (Mistakes: 1)

Case 3: 734; SD: 234 (Mistakes: 3)

Case 4: 847; SD: 760 (Mistakes: 3)

Through our numerous trials, we have found that attempting to sustain two different thought processes will cause the physical reactions related to each to suffer. In comparison to our initial data, there was a larger standard deviation (with one outlying exception) and more mistakes were made, therefore our initial hypothesis was correct.

Even though it may seem like Case 4 should be more complex than Case 3, we found that since Case 4 had a more consistent trigger word of "don't" while Case 3 had more variation in commanding actions. (Ex: "Hit the Button" or "Do Press Now"). When looking at the difference in mistakes made from Case 3 to 4, we can see in Crystal's case that there were 2 more mistakes in the experiment and there was a larger variation in phrases used.

In conclusion, we have found that the more the distractions, the larger variability and standard deviation of the reaction times.

andrelle's picture

on reading, thinking, and acting.

Vivian Cruz, Saskia Guerrier, Eurie Kim

We started out with the assumption that some kind of distraction would affect our reading and thinking abilities by slowing the process. The distraction we chose was music (randomly selected songs; iPod on shuffle).
Thus, music would slow our reactions in Case 3 and Case 4 (which both required reading), but not so much in Case 1 and Case 2 because they were based on looking at graphics rather than words and simply reacting to those graphics.

Case 1 207 millisecs.
Case 2 300 millisecs.
Case 3 401 millisecs.
Case 4 466 millisecs.

Case 1 220 millisecs.
Case 2 383 millisecs.
Case 3 494 millisecs.
Case 4 613 millisecs.

Our Story
According to the observations, music had no significant effect on any of the cases. This could mean two things:
1) The brain is parallel processor, therefore has different neurons working on different activities/functions. For instance, sensory neurons that focus on processing senses (in this case, listening to music) versus other neurons that focus on processing actions/reactions. This shows that neurons could possibly be highly specific (kind of like how certain enzymes only function with certain molecules) to certain stimuli.
2) Both Vivan and Saskia have done the experiment before, therefore having already been "trained", music may not have had much effect in slowing reaction processes.

So we believe that reaction processes as a whole are physical processes in the brain, as opposed to being mental ones.

eharnett's picture

Kaitlin Cough, Elizabeth

Kaitlin Cough, Elizabeth Harnett

These were our base line values (without distractions):


Case 1: 228

Case 2: 317

Case 3: 468

Case 4: 514


Case 1: 255

Case 2: 347

Case 3: 561

Case 4: 707

For our second part of the experiment, the distraction we decided to use was doing the clicking experiment while simultaneously watching a video on youtube. The idea behind this was mimicking doing homework in front of the TV, which we've always known is bad to do. Our hypothesis was that the reaction time would be slower for everything having to do with thinking. (Case 2, Case 3 and Case 4).

Our Data:


Case 1: 283

Case 2: 350

Case 3: 576

Case 4: 564

Think: 67

Read: 226

Negate: -8


Case 1: 342

Case 2: 382

Case 3: 539

Case 4: 472

Think: 40

Read: 157

Negate: -67

For Elizabeth's data our hypothesis was right, except for the acting part: it took longer to act as well. Our hypothesis did not work for Kaitlin at all. It took longer for her to act and think and act, but anything having to do with reading was considerably faster. Our interpretation is that maybe our brains process things differently. The data shows that Elizabeth, when concentrating on one thing, works very fast but with multiple distractions does not work very fast. Kaitlin doesn't work as fast with only one thing to concentrate on, but when there are multple simuli her brain processes it faster.

Rachel Tashjian's picture

Jive Talking.

Here is our original data:


1. 228 Act: 228

2. 275 Think: 47

3. 405 Read: 130

4. 512 Negate: 107


1. 261 Act: 261

2. 470 Think: 209

3. 699 Read: 571

4. 833 Negate: 134

We have decided to introduce distraction by talking as our variable. Person A will do the program while Person B talks to them, trying to engage them in conversation. Person A will have to try to hold a normal conversation; they should not attempt to focus on one thing more than the other. Our hypothesis is that all of the data will slow down by a lot; we believe that the ability to read will slow down more than the others, but because the text to be read in this experiment is so simple, we doubt that the conversation-variable will have an effect.


This was particularly difficult because it was really hard for Rachel to perform any of the tasks while talking.

1. 431 Act: 431

2. 595 Think: 164

3. 759 Read: 164

4. 1431 Negate: 672


1. 279 Act: 279

2. 332 Think: 53

3. 1766 Read: 1434

4. 476 Negate:-1290


The most interesting thing about our data, we think, is that our levels of activity (adding more things) did not change increasingly. In other words, Andy's Negate time was much, much less than his reading times. There were a few things we thought might explain these results:

-English is Andy's second language, so while reading, he had to translate what I was saying into Korean to understand, while translating the words on the screen into Korean, AND translating what he wanted to say to Rachel into English.

-Our discussions had varying degrees of serious. When we talked about more serious or exciting things (home, what we wanted to do in our lives), versus boring things (automatic things like what we were doing earlier today or what classes we were taking), our response times were much slower.

-Women are generally more talkative than men (and indeed, it seems Rachel talks more than Andy).

kharmon's picture

Effects of Sleep


Case 1: 250
Act: 250
Case 2: 310
Think: 60
Case 3: 496 Read: 186
Case 4: 680
Negate: 184


Case 1: 218 Act: 218
Case 2: 333
Think: 115
Case 3: 506
Read: 173
Case 4: 496
Negate: -10

These were our initiadlly results which concurred with those of the rest of the class. The only exception for us and for the other members of the class was Negation. Negation did not take as long as we thought, and our results in context with everyone else's suggest that negation may not take time.

Next we hypothesized that after a nap, the time it took to act would slow down and the time it took to do everything else would speed up because we were now mentally more alert though our bodies were still somewhat lethargic. Our results were as follows:


Case 1: 263
Act: 263
Case 2: 333
Think: 70
Case 3: 601
Read: 268
Case 4: 530
Negate: -71


Case 1: 240 Act: 240
Case 2: 390
Think: 150
Case 3: 556
Read: 166
Case 4: 535 Negate: -21


These results disprove our hypothesis. We both took longer to act and think and I took longer to read, while Kerlyne's reading score improved. Both of us negated faster as well.

This suggests that sleeping may actually increase the time it takes to perform each of these functions of course with the exception of negation. Napping, which is believed to revitalize the mind may actually slow you down instead. As for the negation, we would like to find out more about negation as a mental function including what parts of the brain are required to do it, etc. etc. Lastly, we wondered whether being the last test may have influenced the negation. It's possible that the first time around, we were tired of the tests when it time to negate, and the second time around we could have been more awake and more alert when it was time to negate.

Kendra's picture

reading, acting, thinking, negating

In this lab, Ashley and I first tested our acting, reading, thinking and negating times without an outside variable.

  Case 1
Case 2
Case 3
Case 4
Kendra 280 395



In order to test whether or not a variable had an affect on our acting, reading, thinking and negating times, we decided to do jumping jacks to see if our heart rates would increase. Both Ashley and Kendra did 30 jumping jacks. This is how our times changed:

  Case 1
Case 2
Case 3
Case 4
Act Think
Ashley 291 363
Kendra 320 378
320 58


We both discovered that our results did not have any significant changes between our original time and our time after we were exposed to the outside variable. Our hypothesis was that the jumping jacks would increase the blood flow in our bodies thus increasing our times, but in some cases it did the exact opposite. So this could mean that doing jumping jacks made us more tired than what we were when we came to lab today.

Ruth Goodlaxson's picture

Don't Hold Your Breath

... get it?

We decided to test the effects of breath holding on thinking, acting and reading time. If the different times were effected independently, we would be able to say that they are truly distinct processes. We hypothesized that breath holding would improve acting time because the subject would be more focused, but reading and thinking time will increase because there would be less oxygen getting to the brain.


Control times for Ruth:

Acting: 275 milliseconds

Thinking: 132 milliseconds

Reading: 106 milliseconds


Two Trial Times with Breath Holding:

Acting: 337 milliseconds, 435 milliseconds

Thinking: 122 milliseconds, 38 milliseconds

ReadingL 132 milliseconds, 151 milliseconds

This demonstrates a significant increase in acting time, negating our hypothesis. This shows acting to be a distinct process from reading and thinking, and one that is effected by the lack of oxygen. Thinking and reading overall weren't very effected by breath holding, but one of our numbers seemed to be off.

Distraction was probably not the problem for acting, because distraction also would have effected reading and thinking. Perhaps the oxygen deprivation effected the muscle response and slowed reactions.

PS2007's picture

Grobstein's Song

My group hypothesized about the effect of music on the brain. We believed that music is a distraction that leads people to concentrate less on the task at hand, and wanted to see what effect listening to music would have on the "Time to Think" activity.

These were the results of our experiment, which we found by subtracting the trial with music from the trial without music.

Jen's time increased while she was listening to music, and these are her times:


Act 2 - Act 1 = 38

Think 2 - Think 1 = 44

Read 2 - Read 1 = 148

Negate 2 - Negate 1 = 160


Paige's time decreased, and these are her times:


Act 2 - Act 1 = -56

Think 2 - Think 1 = -11

Read 2 - Read 1 = -59

Negate 2 - Negate 1 = -60


Marie's time mostly decreased, and these are her times:

Act 2 - Act 1 = -7

Think 2 - Think 1 = -28

Read 2 - Read 1 = 78

Negate 2 - Negate 1 = -40


We found this data interesting, because it seems to depend on the person whether music helps them concentrate or distracts them. We thought about doing another experiment where we test people who listen to music while doing work and people who need absolute silence, to see if that correlates with their results on this task.



Catrina Mueller's picture

yaa tsi tsup ari dik ari dull an dik ari dill an dits tan dool..

This first time around, the results of our Thinking Time correlated with the rest of the class.


Act: 240

Think: 95

Read: 92

Negate: 24


Act: 232

Think: 62

Read: 134

Negate: -28

The negative number occurs here because Kate could negate faster than she could read. This suggests that reading and negating are not correlated.

The second time around we decided to listen to LEEKSPIN,, a funny... song.

Our hypothesis was that, while listening to a long repetitive song, the time it took to think would increase.


Act: 237


Read: 98

Negate: 25


Act: 271

Think: 41

Read: 100

Negate: -18

The data suggests that there's really no notable difference between our control times and our LEEKSPIN times. Listening to a long, repetitive song had no effect on how fast we thought.

This could be because our brains were able to tune out LEEKSPIN and concentrate on the tests.