"Although learned actions can be automatically elicited in response to expected stimuli for which they have been prepared, little is known about whether learned actions can be automatically initiated by unexpected stimuli. Responses of unwitting participants to balls unexpectedly thrown by an experimenter (n=10) or propelled by a hidden ball cannon (n=22) were recorded by motion capture. Experience of ball catching correlated negatively with hand movement distance, indicating most responses were defensive, but successful catches were made in response to both thrown and fired balls. Although reaction time was faster in response to fired balls, interception was more frequent in response to thrown balls, indicating that movement cues by the thrower facilitated unexpected ball catching. The latency to begin a catching action by the only successful catcher of an unexpectedly fired ball was 296 msec. Given current knowledge of reaction time tasks and latencies of neural substrates of conscious perception and deliberation, it is probable that there was insufficient time available for conscious preparation of catch attempts. Ball catching may represent an example of a learned response which can be rapidly and unconsciously initiated without contextual priming or expectation of the stimulus."
Photo: Flickr/Kelley Mari
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