Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

, Volume 25, Issue 2, pp 761–766 | Cite as

Disarming the gunslinger effect: Reaction beats intention for cooperative actions

  • Lisa WellerEmail author
  • Wilfried Kunde
  • Roland Pfister
Brief Report


According to the famous physicist Niels Bohr, gunfights at high noon in Western movies not only captivate the cinema audience but also provide an accurate illustration of a psychophysical law. He suggested that willed actions come with slower movement execution than reactions, and therefore that a film’s hero is able to get the upper hand even though the villain normally draws first. A corresponding “gunslinger effect” has been substantiated by empirical studies. Because these studies used a markedly competitive setting, however, it is currently unclear whether the gunslinger effect indeed reflects structural differences between willed actions and reactive movements, or whether it is a by-product of the competitive setting. To obtain bullet-proof evidence for a true reactive advantage, we investigated willed and reactive movements during a cooperative interaction of two participants. A pronounced reactive advantage emerged, indicating that two independent systems indeed control willed and reactive movements.


Action control Cooperation Competition Movement execution 


  1. Becchio, C., Sartori, L., Bulgheroni, M., & Castiello, U. (2008). Both your intention and mine are reflected in the kinematics of my reach-to-grasp movement. Cognition, 106, 894–912. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Becchio, C., Sartori, L., & Castiello, U. (2010). Toward you the social side of actions. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 19, 183–188.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Becchio, C., Zanatto, D., Straulino, E., Cavallo, A., Sartori, G., & Catiello, U. (2014). The kinematic signature of voluntary actions. Neuropsychologia, 64, 169–175. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Brass, M., Bekkering, H., Wohlschläger, A., & Prinz, W. (2000). Compatibility between observed and executed finger movements: Comparing symbolic, spatial, and imitative cues. Brain and Cognition, 44, 124–143 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Casimir, H. (1935). Über eine weniger bekannte Bohr’sche Theorie und ihre experimentelle Bestätigung [On a less-known Bohr theory and its experimental verification]. Journal of Jocular Physics, 1, 23.Google Scholar
  6. Casimir, H. (1983). Haphazard reality: Half a century of science. New York, NY: Harper & Row.Google Scholar
  7. Cline, B. L. (1965). Men who made a new physics. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press (reprinted 1987).Google Scholar
  8. Cunnington, R., Windischberger, C., Deecke, L., & Moser, E. (2002). The preparation and execution of self-initiated and externally-triggered movement: A study of event-related fMRI. NeuroImage, 15, 373–385.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Decety, J., Jackson, P. L., Sommerville, J. A., Chaminade, T., & Meltzoff, A. N. (2004). The neural bases of cooperation and competition: An fMRI investigation. NeuroImage, 23, 744–751. CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  10. Gamow, G. (1961). The biography of physics. New York, NY: Harper & Row.Google Scholar
  11. Georgiou, I., Becchio, C., Glover, S., & Castiello, U. (2007). Different action patterns for cooperative and competitive behaviour. Cognition, 102, 415–433. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Glover, S., & Dixon, P. (2017). The role of predictability in cooperative and competitive joint action. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 43, 644–650.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Jahanshahi, M., Jenkins, I. H., Brown, R. G., Marsden, C. D., Passingham, R. E., & Brooks, D. J. (1995). Self-initiated versus externally triggered movements. Brain, 118, 913–933.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Keller, P. E., Wascher, E., Prinz, W., Waszak, F., Koch, I., & Rosenbaum, D. A. (2006). Differences between intention-based and stimulus-based actions. Journal of Psychophysiology, 20, 9–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Krieghoff, V., Waszak, F., Prinz, W., & Brass, M. (2011). Neural and behavioral correlates of intentional actions. Neuropsychologia, 49, 767–776. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. La Delfa, N. J., Garcia, D. B., Cappelletto, J. A., McDonald, A. C., Lyons, J. L., & Lee, T. D. (2013). The gunslinger effect: Why are movements made faster when responding to versus initiating an action? Journal of Motor Behavior, 45, 85–90. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Martinez de Quel, O., & Bennett, S. J. (2014). Kinematics of self-initiated and reactive karate punches. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 85, 117–123.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Obhi, S. S., & Haggard, P. (2004). Internally generated and externally triggered action are physically distinct and independently controlled. Experimental Brain Research, 156, 518–523.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Passingham, R. E., Bengtsson, S. L., & Lau, H. C. (2010). Medial frontal cortex: From self-generated action to reflection on one’s own performance. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 14, 16–21. CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  20. Pfister, R., Dignath, D., Hommel, B., & Kunde, W. (2013). It takes two to imitate: Anticipation and imitation in social interaction. Psychological Science, 24, 2117–2121.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Pinto, Y., Otten, M., Cohen, M. A., Wolfe, J. M., & Horowitz, T. S. (2011). The boundary conditions for Bohr’s law: When is reacting faster than acting? Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics, 73, 613–620. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Playford, E. D., Jenkins, I. H., Passingham, R. E., Nutt, J., Frackowiak, R. S. J., & Brooks, D. J. (1992). Impaired mesial frontal and putamen activation in Parkinson’s disease: A positron emission tomography study. Annals of Neurology, 32, 151–161.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Proctor, R. W., & Vu, K.-P. L. (2006). Stimulus–response compatibility principles: Data, theory, and application. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.Google Scholar
  24. Schmidt, R. C., & Richardson, M. J. (2008). Dynamics of interpersonal coordination. In A. Fuchs & C. K. Jirsa (Eds.), Coordination: Neural, behavioral and social dynamics (pp. 281–308). Berlin, Germany: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Sebanz, N., Bekkering, H., & Knoblich, G. (2006). Joint action: Bodies and minds moving together. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 10, 70–76. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Sebanz, N., & Knoblich, G. (2009). Prediction in joint action: What, when, and where. Topics in Cognitive Science, 1, 353–367. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. Welchman, A. E., Stanley, J., Schomers, M. R., Miall, R. C., & Bülthoff, H. H. (2010). The quick and the dead: when reaction beats intention. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 277, 1667–1674. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of WürzburgWürzburgGermany

Personalised recommendations