Everyday behaviour involves a trade-off between planned actions and reaction to environmental events. Evidence from neurophysiology, neurology and functional brain imaging suggests different neural bases for the control of different movement types. Here we develop a behavioural paradigm to test movement dynamics for intentional versus reaction movements and provide evidence for a 'reactive advantage' in movement execution, whereby the same action is executed faster in reaction to an opponent. We placed pairs of participants in competition with each other to make a series of button presses. Within-subject analysis of movement times revealed a 10 per cent benefit for reactive actions. This was maintained when opponents performed dissimilar actions, and when participants competed against a computer, suggesting that the effect is not related to facilitation produced by action observation. Rather, faster ballistic movements may be a general property of reactive motor control, potentially providing a useful means of promoting survival.
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