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Reaction Time: The Ruler Drop Test
The nervous system helps information travel through your body. It consists of the 5 senses, your brain, your spinal column, and the nerves that connect them all together. Suppose your eyes see a baseball sailing toward your head. They send a message about the approaching ball to your brain. This message travels to a part of your brain called the cerebrum through nerves. Your cerebrum sends this information to the cerebellum, which has to choose whether to move away, duck, or put a hand up to catch the ball. It finally decides that you should catch it—after all, you’re wearing your baseball glove! The cerebellum sends this decision as message through other nerves to the arm and hand, activating the muscles used to catch the ball.
The time it takes from when your eye first notices the ball to when your arm reaches up to catch it is an example of reaction time. Even though stimuli—or changes in your environment that you react to—travel very quickly along your nervous system as messages, your body doesn’t react instantly. Many athletes spend hours practicing to improve their reaction time. In this activity, you will conduct a simple, measurable experiment (the ruler drop test) to study reaction time and determine how it can be improved with practice.
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