Juggling requires quick reflexes. Scientists have discovered a new technique that might one day help you train.

Image: ©

Have you ever wished you had superhuman reflexes? In a simple but effective experiment, scientists from Sony Computer Science Laboratories and the University of Chicago used electrodes to improve people’s reaction times.

In the experiment, each volunteer used a finger to quickly tap targets appearing on a touchscreen. To help with the task, researchers attached electrodes to the volunteers’ arms. With electrodes giving off well-timed electrical pulses, reaction times were significantly faster.

As a result, the volunteers weren’t really in control of their own arms. The electrodes were connected to the touchscreen and were triggered whether or not the volunteer wanted to touch the screen. In a sense, the volunteers were just puppets to a self-tapping computer.

Curiously, that’s not how people felt. If the computer gave close to a normal human reaction, volunteers thought they were in control of the actions. People were generally happy with an improvement of about 80 milliseconds. Given most people’s natural reactions take about 280 milliseconds, that’s a big improvement.

A hand above a touch screen. There is a circuit board plugged into the touchscreen, and to an electrode on the hand.

Electrodes stimulate muscles directly, and faster than your brain can.

Image: University of Chicago and Sony CSL

Going too far

If scientists further sped up the electrode’s reaction, people felt less in control. In some tests, it even fired before the target appeared! In these experiments, people correctly felt like they were not in control of their own arm.

Although it might seem creepy, there would be plenty of uses for a device that improves your reaction times. The researchers imagine this technology being used to train people in activities that require quick reflexes, such as ball sports, juggling and music. After all, who doesn’t want to feel superhuman? But we do want to feel in control.

If you’re after more science news for kids, subscribe to Double Helix magazine!

Subscribe now! button

2 responses

  1. Osuorie innocent Avatar
    Osuorie innocent

    I love super reflexes but i don’t like the effect it cause

  2. manuel magallanes Avatar
    manuel magallanes

    l need super power right now

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

By submitting this form, you give CSIRO permission to publish your comments on our websites. Please make sure the comments are your own. For more information please see our terms and conditions.

Why choose the Double Helix magazine for your students?

Perfect for ages 8 – 14

Developed by experienced editors

Engaging and motivating

*84% of readers are more interested in science

Engaging students voice