z3250307 - David Mulder
z3291375 - Samuel Carthew
z3219168 - James Greenwood
z3288847 - Archunan Visvanathan


Ever watched an old western movie and noticed that the good guy usually wins in a shoot out? The Nobel prize winning physicist Niels Bohr noticed this and would recreate shoot-outs with his colleagues and friends and would always win. The opponent would always instigate the fight and Bohr would react. Bohr had a theory that even though the opponent drew first, he only had to react to, and not initiate, the fight. He hypothesised that the neural processes involved in reacting occurred faster than those for initially making the decision to act and then doing so. Thereby providing him with an advantage.

This video comes from a New Scientist article by Debora MacKenzie that described an experiment performed by researchers at the University of Birmingham in the UK. The researchers wanted to know whether Bohr was correct in thinking that simply reacting to a stimulus was more quickly processed in the brain than initiating the action. There has been previous research in numerous scientific arenas, e.g. neurology, neurophysiology (Welchman et al, 2010), to show that different processes are involved with either making a decision or reacting to a stimulus. The researchers timed these different processes to determine which process had the lowest time between the process being initiated and an action occurring.

They found that the reactionary neural process was indeed faster. Though unfortunately for Bohr’s theory the researchers noted that the advantage conferred by this would not be enough to make-up for the time between the instigator acting and the follower noticing in order to react, as such the initiator usually completed the task first i.e. the first to draw should win in a shoot out.

Media Item

Neuroscientific Context

The “Shoot-Out Science” media item, investigates the neuroscience of stimulus-driven behaviour and intentional actions. Welchman et al (2010) investigated the influence of different brain processes and neural bases effecting intentional and reactive actions. Welchman et al examines evidence provided by neurophysiological, neurological, functional brain imaging and behavioural research that differing neural bases control each of these actions.

Neurophysiological Research:
Research suggests that the Supplementary Motor Area and the Pre-Motor Cortex of the cerebral cortex contribute to neuronal mechanisms active for the initiation of movement (Romo and Schultz, 1987). In intentional, self-initiated movement, Romo and Schultz found that neurons in both the Supplementary Motor Area and Pre-Motor Cortex of the brain were activated in anticipation of movement. Additionally, experimentation involving the Primary Motor Cortex, the Supplementary Motor Area, and the Pre-Motor Cortex, which involved either self-initiated movement of reactive movement identified that neurons of the Primary Motor Cortex exhibited similar activity in each task; neurons in the Supplementary Motor Area were almost exclusively active during the self-initiated tests; and neurons in the Pre-Motor Cortex were contrastingly more active during the reactive movement tests (Mushiake, Inase and Tanji, 1991).

Neurological Research:
Related research in the field of neurology suggests that the Pre-Motor Cortex and the Supplementary Motor Area are fundamental in the temporal control of movement (Halsband et al, 1992). Similarly, the Supplementary Motor Area’s involvement in non-cued (self-initiated) and cued (reactive) movements was identified (Cunnington et al, 1995).

Functional Brain Imaging Research:
Research using Functional MRI’s of related motor areas in self-initiated and externally-triggered movement identified bilateral activation of the Anterior Supplementary Motor Area, the Posterior Supplementary Motor Area, the Rostral Cingulate Zone and the Causal Cingulate Zone in self-initiated movement (predominantly) and externally-initiated movement (to a lesser extent)(Deiber et al, 1999). Additional research using PET recording and covariance statistics identifies that the Dorso-Lateral Pre-Frontal Cortex is activated only during self-initiated movement, where movement-timing decisions are required (Jenkins et al, 2000).

Behavioural Research:
Behavioural research on mechanisms of movement identifies that actions can be classified as either initiated by a stimulus or intention initiated (Waszak et al, 2005). Waszak et al used EEG’s to reveal a behavioural difference in preparation for stimulus-initiated and intention-initiated tests, which produced different results. This acknowledged the existence of two alternate modes of action selection of movement initiation.


Content Analysis

The media item investigated involved a research case concerning reaction times. The media item is produced by a reputable source, University of Birmingham and was published in New Scientist. Although, New Scientist is a magazine whose content is scientific in nature, its primary purpose is to sell and make a profit. This results in an attempt to make it more entertaining by using the analogy of Hollywood shootouts. This might have led to the focus being shifted away from the scientific viewpoint towards an entertainment one. This would have decreased the credibility and reliability of the media item as a whole. The item was presented and the experiment conducted by Dr Andrew Welchman, who is a lecturer and a BBSRC (a research council supporting scientific endeavors) David Phillips Fellow from the Department of Psychology. Being a scientist, it is assumed he is of a renowned profession and has an adequate understanding of the scientific method. A description and viewing of the experiment is an attempt to ensure that the audience understands that the experimental procedure and to reveal that scientific procedure was followed. The strict observance of the scientific method ensures any findings of the experiments Dr. Welchman conducted during the research were accurate and reliable.

The primary purpose of the media item is to provide entertainment and interest. This is due to the fact its target audience will not have any prior knowledge. The aim of the experiment was to determine the different times of reaction times to decision making. The Hollywood shootout is an excellent scheme to provide information concerning the aim and results of the experiment, whilst maintaining the interest of the audience. This allows a simple understanding of the aim and the method.

The target audience seems to be people with limited neuroscientific knowledge, with no university training. This is demonstrated with the simple, easy to understand colloquial language. The use of animations and demonstrations, such as when he discusses brain mapping and the experimental procedure, divulges the limited familiarity of the audience with the topic. The lack of discussion on brain maps and which parts of the brain controlled reactions and decision making resulted in less than ideal level of information. Although, the simplistic presentation lacked any detailed neuroscientific information, it provided enough detail for an individual with an interest in the field, but has limited knowledge of it. The use of a presenter with profound understanding in the field, Dr Welchman, allowed presentation of facts that had credibility and was trustworthy. However, the results were presented verbally with no data or figures to back up the claim. Without the presentation of data, the claim becomes less trustworthy and reliable.

The use of simple diagrams and language seem to be appropriate for this media item, considering the target audience, which is one that has limited knowledge and little to no training in neuroscience. Nevertheless, the oversimplification also compromises the understanding of the audience. For example, it was never explained which parts of the brain were active during the decision making and reaction response processes. Since New Scientist is not a peer reviewed journal meaning the information may not be current. This bias may have been caused by the fact, that in order for the audiences interest to be preserved, they would need to project the view that the item was factually correct. The item managed to keep most of the focus on the scientific aspect such as the procedure and aim of the experiment and less on the entertainment side, which resulted in an informative explanation and results of reaction times and decision making. However, the media item did not explain the results. As an audience we do not know how many times the method was repeated, and if any anomalies were observed.

Research Analysis

The video introduces the research topic of intentional versus reactive brain pathways and is linked to an article which further summarises the research findings. It introduces the aims of the research as well as giving a brief outline of the experimental methodology and results. The results, while supportive of the current understanding in neuroscience are simplified and somewhat misleading in terms of their actual relevance when viewed without the supporting text article (MacKenzie, 2010).

The research topic is introduced in the media item by identifying the possibility that different pathways in the brain are responsible for reactive and intentional movements. This is consistent with the currently accepted understanding in neuroscience; thought the video itself does not go into specific details. The research paper (Bülthoff, Miall, Schomers, Stanley, Welchman, 2010) to which the video refers suggests that different cortical processing routes are responsible for reactive and intentional movement. The paper also cites previous neuroscience and behavioural research to support these findings, demonstrating that different areas of the brain are activated during the two movement types (Romo, R. & Schultz, W. 1987; Halsband, Ito, Tanji & Freund, 1993; Obhi & Haggard, 2004)

The video also summarises the results of the research stating that ‘the reacting players took 21 milliseconds less time to move, on average, than the first ones’. This gives the impression that the ‘Hollywood portrayal’ is correct, whereby the reacting person has an overall faster reaction speed. Research has found that a faster movement seems to be a fundamental property of reactive movements, although the underlying processes are not fully understood. A number of brain areas are implicated in intentional versus reaction brain pathways and offer possible explanations for this finding. Previous research has found that the pre-supplementary motor area of the medial frontal cortex and the parietal cortex area may both play separate roles in disinhibiting intentional and reactive movement sequences respectively (Cunnington, Robinson & Moser, 2006; Isoda & Hikosaka, 2007). The parietal cortex pathway is cited as a key disinhibitor of early movement and is thus a likely candidate for increased movement speed exhibited by reactive actions. The videos summary of the results is hence consistent with current research, though does not elaborate on how these processes work within the brain. However, the linked article to the video elaborates on this concept, revealing that although the movement time from the reacting player is quicker, there is a significant delay in the reaction itself making it virtually impossible for the reacting player to complete a task before the initiator. If the media item is viewed in isolation without the accompanying article the viewer might easily misinterpret its explanation and think that overall the tasks are performed quicker by reactive than intentional processes, whereas this is only true for actual movement speed itself.

The simplification of the neuroscience behind the phenomena in the video would somewhat compromise its message if it were a stand-alone media item. However, the video is intended as an advertisement for the full-text article on the subject, which clarifies any ambiguity. Hence the validity of the media item is not greatly affected by its simplicity.


Cunnington, R., Iansek, R., Bradshaw, J. L. & Phillips, J. G. (1995) Movement-Related Potentials in Parkinson’s disease. Brain: The Journal of Neurology. 118: 935 – 950.
Cunnington, R., Windischberger, C., Robinson, S. & Moser, E. 2006 The selection of intended actions and the observation of others’ actions: a time-resolved fMRI study. Neuroimage 29, 1294–1302.
Deiber, M. P., Honda, M., Ibanez, V., Sadato, N. & Hallett, M. (1999) Mesial Motor Areas in Self-Initiated Versus Externally Triggered Movements Examined with fMRI: Effect of Movement Type and Rate. The Journal of Neurophysiology. 81: 3065 – 3077.
Jenkins, I. H., Jahanshahi, M., Jueptner, M., Passingham, R. E. & Brooks, D. J. (2000) Self-Initiated Versus Externally Triggered Movements. Brain: The Journal of Neurology. 123: 1216 – 1228.
Halsband, U., Ito, N. & Freund, H. J. (1992) the role of Pre-Motor Cortex and the Supplementary Motor Area in the Temporal Control of Movement in Man. Brain: The Journal of Neurology 116: 243 – 266.
Isoda, M. & Hikosaka, O. 2007 Switching from automatic to controlled action by monkey medial frontal cortex. Nat. Neurosci. 10, 240–248.
MacKenzie, D.2010 Draw! The neuroscience behind Hollywood shoot-outs. The New Scientist. 205, 11-11. Obhi, S. S. & Haggard, P. 2004 Internally generated and externally triggered actions are physically distinct and independently controlled. Exp. Brain Res. 156, 518–523.
Mushiake, H., Inase, M., and Tanji, J. (1991) Neuronal Activity in the Primate Pre-Motor, Supplementary, and Pre-Central Motor Cortex During Visually Guided and Internally Determined Sequential Movements. The Journal of Neurophysiology. 66: 705 – 718.
Romo, R., & Schultz, W. (1987) Neuronal Activity Preceding Self-Initiated of Externally Timed Movements in Area 6 of Monkey Cortex. Journal of Experimental Brain Research. 67: 656 – 662.
Welchman, A. E., Stanley, J., Schomers, M. R., Miall, R. C., & Buithoff, H. H. (2010) The quick and the dead: when reaction beats intention. Proceedings of the Royal Society B. 1471 – 2954.


Journal Article
New Scientist Article

We looked at numerous youtube videos associated with neuroscience but decided to try to find something that had more credibility. The New Scientist website was then looked at and we found they had a Brain Topic area with many videos and articles on neuroscience. After narrowing the list of potential videos down to two we decided to go with this choice as the science involved was not too in depth so a person could watch the video and understand the research without prior knowledge of neuroscience. The item is also interesting and presented in a way that would interest people, i.e explaining an everyday occurrence (reactions) in a scientific manner.