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Alma Schools High School Students Present Research on the Reaction Times of Distracted Drivers

This year, we were excited to release two new kits in concert with our Muscle SpikerBox Pro, kits that are designed to help capture very precise data about reflexes (The Reflex Hammer) and reactions (The Reaction Timer). It didn’t take long for students to start getting their hands on these tools, and we are excited today to present the results of one classroom’s research which was enabled by these tools!

Juli D. and her Anatomy and Physiology class were interested in studying reactions and reflexes, first by studying reaction times in “distracted driving” scenarios, and then by coming up with experimental procedures to see what variables may affect reflexes.

Juli shared a lot of pictures and information about her and her students’ work this summer, made possible by a Michigan education grant from Tri-County Electric! From Juli:

“Tri-County Electric offered us a grant of $2000 to purchase muscle spiker boxes and reaction timers. The purpose was to have students develop a lab that would test how reaction times change with distractions while driving. Backyard Brains graciously worked with us through some kinks and even supplied us with new equipment to expand our research into how reflexes change with different temperatures.

Students experimenting with the Muscle SpikerBox Pro and Reaction Timer

“Students were familiar with the dangers of distracted driving but until we had the actual experience and data they thought they were the exception. Our hope is that we can lower distracted driving incidents by informing our community of the dangers of distracted driving and offering the experience in a safe setting for adolescents to observe the possible dangers of distracted driving.

“The reflex test on muscles that have been cooled or warmed was a side project that we would like to expand on. Our results were surprising and the implications are still yet to be explored. But we look forward to more research on this next year.

“For the final results, I have a website I share with the community of featuring the student research. There is a comments section where people can add questions or comments, and I share those with the research groups so they can respond. The info is also sent to Alma College and depending on what they do it can be shared on their website which is available to anyone who wants to utilize the data.

“My students were really excited to also use the Reflex Hammers and Human-Human Interface for their research projects. I had 2 doing reflexes experiments studying how the time changes with muscles that are warmed up or cold. A group of 4 then used my Human-Human Interface and a Muscle SpikerBox [Pro] to see if males and females need a different amount of stimulus to get the same strength contraction. Then, as covered above, 3 separate groups tested how reaction times change with distractions (2 of those groups are focusing on texting while driving), and 2 other groups did experiments on virtual reality vs. reality on roller coasters and how the body responds/ laughter and the effects on men and women.”

Not just that, but Juli worked with her colleagues to bring many of these experiments and experiences to other students in the school with learning differences! This helped even more students learn a little bit about neuroscience and human physiology.

Distracted Driving Reaction Times

Many of the groups were interested in studying distracted driving. Kaley B. and Cleo K. started with a simple questions and hypothesis:

“Question: How will distractions affect the reaction time while driving vs paying attention?

“Hypothesis: If a person is distracted while driving, then they will have a slower reaction time than a person that is not distracted.”

These students were interested in testing how the distracted driver would respond to both visual and auditory cues – mimicking the kinds of “events” you may need to respond to while actually driving. The students gathered data from 18 of their classmates, presented below.

They concluded: “During our experiment we came to the conclusion that most people react faster to sound while on their phones and not on their phones than the light. But both reaction times, light and sound, were slower while distracted than focusing. This could be detrimental to you and those around you if you decide to drive while being distracted.”

I think it was interesting to see that there was a slower reaction time to both stimuli while the subjects… but that visual responses were almost 2x slower, while audio responses were only about 1.5x slower. Obviously, this isn’t to say that there is any kind of “safe” distracted driving, but it makes me curious if different kinds of distractions will cause a variance in whether or not visual or audio cues are slower.

Threshold Stimulus Project

Students EP, WK, DH, and AM were curious to use the Human-Human Interface and examine the threshold at which electrical stimulation of the arm’s ulnar nerve would evoke movement in the subject!

“Question: Does gender affect the minimum stimulus threshold?

“Hypothesis: If we compare the severity of the response (threshold stimulus) from both female and males per interval of intensity, then the males will have a lower threshold stimulus.”

“In Conclusion: After testing twenty males and twenty females, we found the averages to be two point two for females and two point seven for males. Our hypothesis (If we compare the severity of the response from both males and females per interval of intensity, then males will react more/have a lower score) turned out to be wrong. According to our data, females have a lower threshold stimulus, and have more sensitive reflexes.”

This lab is very creative – without having a way of capturing information about the electrical signal, the students can still learn about the proportional difference in stimulation required (as measured by the 1-10 setting on the TENS device).

Effect of Temperature on Reflex Speed

Dom A. and Mason E. hypothesized that hot and cold temperatures would affect the speed of the patellar reflex (which typically clocks in around 30ms). The following procedure, data, and results are their words taken from their post-experiment presentation!

“If we test the reaction time of the calf muscle on different people in different states of warm and cold, then the average warm reflex will be faster than the average cold reflex.

  1. Set up the Reflex Hammer and the Muscle Spikerbox Pro to your Android or computer.
  2. Place the electrodes on the locations represented in the picture provided. (Red to red, black to black)
  3. Apply the clamps to the electrodes.
  4. Then hit the achilles tendon on the back of partner’s with the reflex hammer.
  5. Record five reflexes when calf is neutral.
  6. Place the heated up rice pad on the calf muscle for 5 minutes, take the rice pad off, record 5 taps of the reflex hammer.
  7. Place the ice pack on your partner’s calf for 5 minutes, take off the ice pack, and record five taps of the reflex hammer.

They concluded: “Our hypothesis was that if we test the reaction time of the gastrocnemius on different people in different states of warm and cold, then the average warm reflex will be faster than the average cold reflex. Our data supported this hypothesis. On average, the reflex time of a warm calf muscle for our test group was 23.602 ms, while the average cold calf muscle reflex time was 38.29 ms, leaving a difference of about 15 ms in between the two numbers. Therefore, on average the warm calf reflex time will be faster than the average cold reflex time.

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