Age-related increases in reaction time result from slower preparation, not delayed initiation

Robert M. Hardwick, Alexander D. Forrence, M. Gabriela Costello, Kathleen M Zackowski, Adrian M. Haith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recent work indicates that healthy younger adults can prepare accurate responses faster than their voluntary reaction times would suggest, leaving a seemingly unnecessary delay of 80–100 ms before responding. Here, we examined how the preparation of movements, initiation of movements, and the delay between them are affected by aging. Participants made planar reaching movements in two conditions. The “free reaction time” condition assessed the voluntary reaction times with which participants responded to the appearance of a stimulus. The “forced reaction time” condition assessed the minimum time actually needed to prepare accurate movements by controlling the time allowed for movement preparation. The time taken to both initiate movements in the free reaction time and to prepare movements in the forced response condition increased with age. Notably, the time required to prepare accurate movements was significantly shorter than participants’ self-selected initiation times; however, the delay between movement preparation and initiation remained consistent across the lifespan (∼90 ms). These results indicate that the slower reaction times of healthy older adults are not due to an increased hesitancy to respond, but can instead be attributed to changes in their ability to process stimuli and prepare movements accordingly, consistent with age-related changes in brain structure and function.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)582-592
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of neurophysiology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2022


  • ageing
  • forced response
  • response initiation
  • response preparation
  • timed response

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Physiology


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