The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Friday, January 18, 2008

Reaction time and age of subject.

Children learn quickly, don't they? Adults are slow, plodding creatures in the classroom and it is the quickwitted child who beats them every time. So, a child is quicker than an adult in every way...right? Wrong.

Though a child is smaller and therefore there is less distance for nerve signals to travel around their bodies, the reaction time of a child is SLOWER than an adult's. In fact, there is an inverse linear relationship between age and reaction time. In other words, the older you are, the faster you are (to a limit). Indeed, one source I noted declared that reaction time in the first grade may be TWICE as long as reaction time in the sixth grade. So these age differences are marked indeed.

I think it is important for parents to know this. Don't expect a child to react with the swiftness of an adult. Not only will they not - but they can't.

In experiments on subjects of various ages, using two different stimuli - one a light which goes on and off (visual stimulus), the other a buzzer which sounds (audible stimulus), the mean reaction times were determined.

There are not only differences for age, but differences for sex, too.

I shall list the results for male subjects first.

Age: 20. Stimulus seen: 240 milliseconds. Stimulus heard: 230 milliseconds.
Age: 30. Stimulus seen: 220 milliseconds. Stimulus heard: 190 milliseconds.
Age: 40. Stimulus seen: 260 milliseconds. Stimulus heard: 240 milliseconds.
Age: 50. Stimulus seen: 270 milliseconds. Stimulus heard: 250 milliseconds.
Age: 60. Stimulus seen: 380 milliseconds. Stimulus heard: 370 milliseconds.

Reaction time results for female subjects:

Age: 20. Stimulus seen: 320 milliseconds. Stimulus heard: 310 milliseconds.
Age: 30. Stimulus seen: 260 milliseconds. Stimulus heard: 200 milliseconds.
Age: 40. Stimulus seen: 340 milliseconds. Stimulus heard: 300 milliseconds.
Age: 50. Stimulus seen: 360 milliseconds. Stimulus heard: 300 milliseconds.
Age: 60. Stimulus seen: 44o milliseconds. Stimulus heard: 420 milliseconds.

The big surprise in these figures is that 30 year olds are faster than 20 year olds, for both male and female subjects.

The other notable feature is that male subjects have faster reaction time than females at all ages.

I was somewhat shocked to note the very sudden slowing of reactions at the age of 60. They are markedly slower and less responsive than only ten years younger. It seems that we really do "slow down" as we get older. I just hadn't realized how marked the decline was.

An awareness of these charts can help us understand the needs of both the young and old. It also instils a new respect for 30 year olds. They are actually faster than teenagers! (I don't think too many teenagers will believe it though.)

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and one month, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, four years and six months, and Tiarnan, twenty-three months, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, the Irish, the Malays, Singapore, College, University, Chemistry, Science, genetics, left-handedness, precocity, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, gifted adults and gifted children in general. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 11:04 PM 


Blogger Paul said...

You're right, I won't believe it.

But only because it says the women are slower.


4:23 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Are you a teenager, Paul?

Well, as for women slower to react...that is what the research noted. However, do note they follow the same pattern as men: quicker and quicker up to age 30, then slowing towards 40 and a great slowing afterwards.

Best wishes

11:12 AM  
Blogger Paul said...


I am a teenager, technically. 18 years of age on this day. The same high school student from before.

Well, I wouldn't believe it if this tests didn't admit that they were restricted to single-process timing. (versus light or audio) Otherwise, I wouldn't believe it.


I get jealous when the women can write their notes, talk to me, and pay attention to the TV at the same time.


9:44 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Yes, Paul, you are right. The challenge was a single process. The general view is that women surpass men when the challenge is multiple and simultaneous. I will see if I can dig up any experiments...

However, I should make clear that these are average results for a test population. There will be variation between individuals. That means that you cannot say that, just because someone is a woman, that she is slower than a man. An individual woman could be faster than a particular individual man. Furthermore, the same could apply (within reason) to aging individuals. A particular 40 year old, might be faster than a particular 30 year old. However it is rather unlikely that a 60 year old is going to be faster than a 30 year old - nevertheless I am prepared to believe that it could happen.

Best wishes

11:06 AM  

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