Response Latency: Definition & Examples

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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Karin Gonzalez

Karin has taught middle and high school Health and has a master's degree in social work.

In this lesson you'll learn the definition of response latency and the implications that it has for social and cognitive psychology. You'll be given examples to better understand how response latency is used as a measurement tool in research.

What Is Response Latency?

When we are at a stop light and the light turns green, how long does it take our brain to register it and for our foot to step on the gas pedal? Not long at all, right? The period of time from the stimulus (the green light) to the response (pressing the gas pedal) is called the response latency.

Response Latency is the time span between a stimulus and a response or reaction. It is often used in psychology, especially in experiments in cognitive or social psychology. In cognitive psychology, for example, shorter response latencies can mean quicker brain processing or better memory.

Response Latency in Animal Research

Psychologists and scientists have used response latency in cognitive and social psychology research in order to measure a number of things. In animal studies, a shortening response latency to the same stimulus usually indicates that the stimulus is becoming more and more effective at eliciting a response.

For example, A. Charles Catania, et al conducted a 1968 study on pecking behavior in pigeons. Catania positively reinforced the pigeons with food when they pecked keys. Catania found that the pigeon's response latencies decreased over time. In other words, there was a shorter time between stimulus and reaction. Animal studies like these had major implications for behavior psychology and the ability to condition humans to behave in certain ways with the assistance of positive and negative reinforcements.

Response Latency in Survey Research

Example 1:

A German study in 2013 used response latencies as a measurement of individual attitude while completing questions on a survey. If the response was very fast (or a short response latency), it showed the individual may have an automatic-spontaneous response. If the response was slower ( or a longer response latency), it meant that the individual was answering questions in a deliberative-controlled mode.

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