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BSL PRO Lesson H16:

Active Learning: Reflexes & Reaction Time

This lesson is based on a presentation developed by Dr.


Jennifer Lundmark and Ms. Andrea Salmi for the HAPS
Conference, Phoenix, Arizona, May 25-30, 2002.
This PRO Lesson describes basic reflex and reaction time (visual stimulus) exercises and details hardware
and software setup of the BSL Lessons System to record reaction time to auditory stimulus. All data collection
and analysis is done via the BIOPAC MP data acquisition unit and the Biopac Student Lab Lessons software.

Active Learning With Inquiry-based Labs


Active Learning Lessons convert traditional physiology laboratories into inquiry-based exercises. Students
perform a lab exercise designed to encourage them to make observations and develop and test multiple
hypotheses during a single lab period using the BIOPAC data acquisition system. These inquiry-based
exercises are designed to give students experience with the scientific method, group discussion, design of
simple experimental protocols, and the responsibility of making their own decisions.
This "Active Learning lesson allows students to participant in, rather than merely receive, their own education.
This lesson assumes students are familiar with the basic concepts of reflex and reaction (response) time
outlined below, and provides only the basic setup and recording steps students need to create their own
experiment. Students will design an experiment to determine factors that affect reaction time and indicate
specifically where in the nervous system sequence a factor had its effect.
To learn more about the benefits of Inquiry-based, Active Learning Labs, read these results from an NSF-CCLI
Grant-Supported Project on Inquiry-based labs using the Biopac Student Lab System.
Abstract
Dr. Jennifer Lundmark <lundmark@csus.edu> & Ms. Andrea Salmi <salmia@crc.losrios.cc.ca.us>

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BSL PRO Lesson H11

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REFLEXES
Reflexes are rapid, predictable motor responses to stimuli. Reflexes occur over specific neural pathways called
reflex arcs. In this exercise, you will test reflexes that are initiated by stretch receptors (muscle spindles) within
muscles. Stretching the muscle spindles stimulates a sensory neuron that conducts an impulse to the spinal
cord. In the spinal cord, the sensory neuron generally stimulates an interneuron (but directly stimulates motor
neurons in the knee jerk reflex). The motor neurons conduct impulses to muscles and stimulate them to
contract.
One way to stretch muscle spindles is to strike a tendon with a rubber mallet. You will test several different
reflexes in this manner.
REACTION TIME
Reaction time is the amount of time it takes for an individual to react voluntarily to a sensory stimulus. In the
first exercise, students will test their reaction time to a visual stimulus. In the second exercise, students will test
their reaction time to an auditory stimulus.
Some years ago, a world-class runner was repeatedly
accused by his competitors of jumping the gun in
races. He could only respond to these accusations by
saying that he felt he had done nothing wrong. When
footage of his races was reviewed, it became clear
that he was in fact leaving the starting blocks before
his competitors. As the evidence against him
mounted, he underwent physiological testing which
measured how long it took him to respond to external
events or stimuli. It was revealed that his responses
were some five to ten percent faster than those of an
average runner, and this slight advantage enabled
him to react faster once he heard the starters pistol.
BIOPAC Systems, Inc.

Objectives
1.
2.
3.
4.

Measure reflex response of the femoral, medial popliteal, musculocutaneous, and radial nerves.
Measure reaction time to visual stimulus.
Observe the effects of learning and physiological processes on reaction times of auditory stimulus.
Compare reaction times with two presentation schedules: fixed intervals and pseudo-random intervals
of auditory stimulus.
5. Design an experiment to determine factors that affect reaction time and indicate specifically where in
the nervous system sequence a factor had its effect.

Equipment

BIOPAC push-button hand switch (SS10L)


BIOPAC headphones (OUT1)
Reaction Time Ruler or equivalent measure (divided into milliseconds, from 50 milliseconds at the
thumb line, to 400 milliseconds at the release endsee conversion chart)
Rubber mallet (or similar)
Chair
Desk or table
Colored pencils (for Lab Report)
Computer running Windows XP or Mac OS X
BIOPAC MP35/MP30 Data Acquisition Unit
Biopac Student Lab Lessons Software (Lesson 11: Reaction Time)

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BSL PRO Lesson H11

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Setup
Hardware

1. Plug the push-button hand switch (SS10L) into CH 1 on the front of the MP unit.
2. Plug the headphones (OUT1) into the "Analog Out" port on the back of the MP unit.
3. Turn the MP unit ON.

Software
1. Launch the BSL Lessons software on the host computer.
2. Optional: Print the H16 Lab Report (PDF file) to complete it as you work.

Reflex Exercises
One way to stretch muscle spindles is to strike a tendon with a rubber mallet. You will test several different
reflexes in this manner.
1. Knee Jerk - tests the femoral nerve
Have the Subject sit with his or her legs hanging freely over the edge of the chair.
Strike the patellar ligament and observe the resulting muscle contraction.
Report: Which muscles contract? What causes these muscles to contract? What action occurs
at the knee joint?
2. Ankle Jerk - tests the medial popliteal nerve
Have the Subject stand on one leg alongside a chair, with the other leg bent at the knee and its
shin resting on the seat of the chair. The foot should project over the edge of the chair.
Strike the Achilles tendon at ankle level and observe the resulting muscle contraction.
o Report: Which muscles contract? What causes these muscles to contract? What action
occurs at the ankle joint?
3. Biceps Brachii Jerk - tests the musculocutaneous nerve
Have the Subject rest an arm on the desk.
Locate the tendon of the biceps brachii muscle in the antecubital (anterior elbow) region.
Gently press the biceps brachii tendon with the thumb and strike the thumbnail with the mallet.
o Note the twitch in the biceps brachii muscle. Usually the contraction is too weak to
produce any significant arm movement.
o Report: If the biceps brachii did produce a strong contraction, what action would occur at
the elbow joint?
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4. Triceps Brachii Jerk - tests the radial nerve


Have the Subject lay his or her chest on the lab desk so that the upper part of the arm is resting
on the desk and the forearm is hanging over the edge of the desk.
Strike the tendon of the triceps brachii on the posterior surface of the elbow.
o Report: What action occurs at the elbow?

Reaction time: Visual Stimulus Exercises


1. Each pair of students should obtain a reaction time ruler and assign one student to start as the
Releaser, and the other student to start as the Subject.
Look at the ruler and note that it is divided into milliseconds, from 50 milliseconds at the thumb

line to 400 milliseconds at the release end. The lines that are not numbered represent 10
milliseconds.
2. Get in position.
The Subject should sit in a chair, while the Releaser should stand facing the Subject.
The Releaser should hold the ruler at the release end, and the Subject should position the thumb

and index finger of the dominant hand on either side of the thumb line, about one inch apart. That
is, the thumb line mark on the ruler should be between the Subjects thumb and index finger.
3. The Subject should indicate when he or she is ready to start, and the Releaser should then let go of
the ruler anytime within the next 10 seconds.
The Releaser should not look at the Subject, or give any indication when he or she is going to

release the ruler.


4. The Subject should try to catch the ruler between the thumb and index finder as soon as it begins to
fall.
5. Report: Practice 10 drops, and then record the next 10 measurements in the Lab Report.
The number of milliseconds it takes for the Subject to catch the ruler is read from the values on

the ruler; use the value under the center of the thumb.
It may be necessary to estimate the number of milliseconds if the center of the thumb does not fall

directly on a labeled interval.


If you do not have a Reaction Time Ruler, use the following conversion:

Distance

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Reaction Time

2 in (~5 cm)

0.10 sec (100 ms)

4 in (~10 cm)

0.14 sec (140 ms)

6 in (~15 cm)

0.17 sec (170 ms)

8 in (~20 cm)

0.20 sec (200 ms)

10 in (~25.5 cm)

0.23 sec (230 ms)

12 in (~30.5 cm)

0.25 sec (250 ms)

17 in (~43 cm)

0.30 sec (300 ms)

24 in (~61 cm)

0.35 sec (350 ms)

31 in (~79 cm)

0.40 sec (400 ms)

39 in (~99 cm)

0.45 sec (450 ms)

48 in (~123 cm)

0.50 sec (500 ms)

69 in (~175 cm)

0.60 sec (600 ms)

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OR to be more precise, use the following formula:

where, t = time (in seconds); y = distance (in cm); g = 980 cm/sec2 (acceleration due to
gravity). Note: To use inches in your distance measurement, use g = 385.8 in/sec2.

Reaction Time Visual Stimulus


Trial #
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10

Subject A (msec)
__________
__________
__________
__________
__________
__________
__________
__________
__________
__________

Subject B (msec)
__________
__________
__________
__________
__________
__________
__________
__________
__________
__________

6. Have the Subject and the Releaser change places and repeat steps 2-5
7. Report: Calculate the average reaction time (msec) for both Subjects.

Reaction Time: Auditory Stimulus Exercises


1. Open the Reaction Time lesson, L11-React-1.

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2. Have the Subject put on the headphones, hold the hand switch in his/her dominant hand, close his/her
eyes and relax.

3. Click Calibrate and then click OK to start the 8 second calibration procedure.
4. The Subject should quickly and briefly press the button on the hand switch when he or she hears a
click.

This will happen about 4 seconds into the recording. At the end of the 8 seconds, verify that a
spike appears on the screen. If so, you are ready to record. Otherwise, redo the calibration
procedure.

6. The Subject will now record four segments of data; the Subject should sit quietly with closed eyes
during the four segments of data collection.
The first two segments will present 10 clicks at pseudo-random intervals, varying from 1 to 10
seconds between clicks.
The second two segments will present 10 clicks at fixed intervals, every 4 seconds.
7. When ready, click Record to start the first segment.

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8. The Subject should quickly and briefly press the button when he or she hears a click.
At the end of the 10 clicks, the recording will automatically stop.

8. Allow the Subject to relax for a moment, then click Resume and do the next set.
9. Continue until all four sets of data have been collected.
10. Click Done and choose Analyze current data file or "Save As" from the pop-up window.

Note: Following the press of the Done button, the program automatically calculates all 10
reaction times and the average reaction times for each trial and places them in the Journal
window on the bottom of the screen. Use this Journal information to fill in your Lab Report.

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BSL PRO Lesson H11

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Design an Experiment
Conform to the Scientific Method
A. Identify a problem or objective.
B. Form a hypothesis.
C. Test the hypotheses by observation and experimentation.
D. Interpret the data.
E. Draw conclusions (design a new experiment if data do not
support the hypothesis)
F. Report observations and conclusions.

1. Determine at least two factors that might affect the reaction time of your subject.
2. Develop two hypotheses and show them to your instructor before proceeding.
3. Using the Biopac Student Lab Lessons menu, start Lesson 11 again.
4. Collect your data.
5. Explain the results; that is, why did the tested factors affect the reaction time of your subject?
6. Indicate specifically where in the nervous system sequence your factor had its effect.

Analysis
The BSL software offers a wide array of measurement and analysis tools to provide precise analysis of
reaction time. Some analysis options follow.
For detailed analysis and additional questions, print and complete the H16 Lab Report (PDF file).
1. Set up your display window for optimal viewing of the first marker and pulse of the first segment.

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BSL PRO Lesson H11

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2. Set up a measurement box for CH 1 = Delta T.

3. Select an area from the first marker to the leading edge of the first pulse and note the T measurement.
o The marker indicates the start of the stimulus click.
o The leading edge of the pulse indicates when the button was first pressed. Leading edge is
defined as the point where the pulse first reaches its peak.
o The threshold that the program uses to calculate reaction time is 1.5mV.
4. Look at the first reaction time result in the Journal and compare this to the T measurement found
above--they should be approximately the same.
5. Repeat the steps above on other pulses until you are convinced that the Journal readings are accurate.
6. Report: Print the Journal or transfer your data from the Journal to the Data Report.
7. Report: Record the average values for the four exercises below, and convert to milliseconds.
Reaction Time Auditory Stimulus
Segment #:
Presentation

Subject A
seconds

Subject A
msec

Subject B
seconds

Subject B
msec

Segment 1:
Pseudorandom

__________

__________

__________

__________

Segment 2:
Pseudorandom

__________

__________

__________

__________

Segment 3:
Fixed-interval

__________

__________

__________

__________

Segment 4:
Fixed-interval

__________

__________

__________

__________

8. Report: Collect data from at least five other Subjects as needed to complete the Lab Report. Calculate
the mean for each presentation to determine if reaction times vary as the Subjects progress through the
series of stimulus events.

A. Group Summary Complete Table 11.3 with the mean for five Subjects and calculate the group
mean.

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B. Variance and Standard Deviation


Calculate the variance and standard deviation for five Subjects with data from Segment 2:
Pseudo-random Trial 2 and from Segment 4: Fixed Interval Trial 2.

C. Questions
a.

Did reaction times vary as the Subjects progressed through the series of stimulus events?

b.

Describe the changes that occurred in the mean reaction time between the 1st and 10th stimuli
presentation:
For Segment 1:
For Segment 2:
Which segment showed the greatest change in mean reaction time?

Segment 1

Segment 2
sec

c.

Estimate the minimal reaction time when reaction time becomes constant:

d.

What physiological processes occur between stimuli presentation and pressing the hand switch?

e.

Which presentation schedule had a lower group mean? Pseudo-random

f.

Which of the presentation schedules seems to have less variation (lower variance and lower
standard deviation)?

g.
h.

Fixed-interval

Pseudo-random
Fixed-interval
State a plausible relationship between the difficulty of a task and the reaction time statistics: mean,
variance, and standard deviation.
What differences would you predict in reaction times and learning between your right and left
hands?

9. Save or Print the data file.


10. Exit the Biopac Student Lab program.

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Appendix
Inquiry-based Labs / Active Learning

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