Galileo and Reaction Time Research

A recent issue of Perception, includes an article entitled, “Galileo, measurement of the velocity of light, and the reaction times” by Renato Foschi of the Facoltà di Psicologia 1, Università di Roma and Matteo Leone of the Dipartimento di Fisica, Università di Genova. In this article Foschi and Leone, drawing on archival material, discuss Galileo Galilei’s experimental work on the velocity of light as an early instance of reaction time research. The abstract to this article reads:

According to the commonly accepted view, Galileo Galilei devised in 1638 an experiment that seemed able to show that the velocity of light is finite. An analysis of archival material shows that two decades later members of the Florence scientific society Accademia del Cimento followed Galileo guidelines by actually attempting to measure the velocity of light and suggesting improvements. This analysis also reveals a fundamental difference between Galileo’s and Florence academy’s methodologies and that Galileo’s experiment was, in some respects, a pioneering work affecting also the history of the psychology of perception.

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young is a professor at Quest University Canada. A critical feminist psychologist and historian of psychology, she is committed to critical pedagogy and public engagement with feminist psychology and the history of the discipline.

2 thoughts on “Galileo and Reaction Time Research

  1. The “Subtraction Method” used in PET and fMRI experiments is usually credited to
    a contemporary neuroscientist, but was actually developed by Wilhelm Wundt, the Founder of the science of Psychology in 1879.
    Wundt asked subjects to press a telegraph key as soon as a single light bulb became lit. He also asked these subjects to respond in the same way when one of simultaneously-presented multiple light bulbs was turned on.
    Wundt discovered that reaction times were slower in the second, more complex, condition, and by subtracting the second reaction time from the first one, he argued that the difference represented the time taken by the brain to process the information and to respond.

  2. In the article you can read about the historical development of the subtraction method. The “Subtraction Method” was developed by Donders.

    The article is about an archaeology of the subtraction method.



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