Is reaction time altered by mental or physical exertion?

  • Yann Le Mansec
  • Sylvain Dorel
  • Antoine Nordez
  • Marc JubeauEmail author
Original Article



Reaction time, classically divided into premotor time and electromechanical delay (EMD), can be determinant in daily life or sport situations. While some previous studies reported a negative impact of both muscle and mental fatigue on reaction time, the respective contributions of premotor time and EMD to the changes of reaction time remains unclear. The aim of the study was, therefore, to assess the effects of both muscle and mental effort on reaction time and its components.


Thirteen subjects performed three conditions (mental effort condition, i.e., 14 min of a mathematical cognitive task; muscle effort condition, i.e., intermittent contractions of the biceps brachii; control condition, i.e., watching a documentary). Before and after each condition, reaction time, premotor time and EMD were measured during voluntary contractions of the biceps brachii. EMD was also measured during evoked contractions of the biceps brachii to separate the parts due to the onset of muscle fascicle motion and the onset of force production.


Reaction time and premotor time remained stable regardless of the condition considered (all P values > 0.05). EMD increased only after the muscle effort condition (+ 25% during voluntary contractions, no significant; + 17% during evoked contractions, P = 0.001), mainly due to an increase in the passive part of the series elastic component.


Our study showed that neither mental nor muscle effort has a negative effect on simple reaction time during voluntary contractions.


Mental effort Muscle effort Premotor time Electromechanical delay 



Analysis of variance


Electromechanical delay during electrical stimulation


Electromechanical delay during voluntary contraction


Maximal voluntary contraction


Rate of force development



The authors thank Valentin Doguet for his valuable help and technical assistance.

Author contributions

YL, SD, AN and MJ conceived or designed research. YL, SD, AN and MJ participated in data acquisition, analyzed or interpreted the data. YL, SD, AN and MJ drafted and revised the work. YL, SD, AN and MJ approved the final version of the manuscript.


The study was supported by Grants from the French Ministry of Sports (contract no. 15r16).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Yann Le Mansec
    • 1
  • Sylvain Dorel
    • 1
  • Antoine Nordez
    • 1
    • 2
  • Marc Jubeau
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Laboratory Movement, Interactions, Performance (EA4334), Faculty of Sport SciencesUniversité de NantesNantesFrance
  2. 2.Health and Rehabilitation Research Institute, Faculty of Health and Environmental SciencesAuckland University of TechnologyAucklandNew Zealand

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