Reaction time (RT) is the elapsed time between the presentation of a sensory stimulus and the subsequent behavioral response. RT is often used in experimental psychology to measure the duration of mental operations, an area of research known as mental chronometry. In psychometric psychology it is considered to be an index of speed of processing. That is, it indicates how fast the thinker can execute the mental operations needed by the task at hand. In turn, speed of processing is considered an index of processing efficiency. The behavioral response is typically a button press but can also be an eye movement, a vocal response, or some other observable behavior.
RT is fastest when there is only one possible response (simple reaction time) and becomes slower as additional response options are added (choice reaction time). According to Hick's law, choice reaction time increases in proportion to the logarithm of the number of response alternatives. The law is usually expressed by the formula RT = a + blog2(n + 1), where a and b are constants representing the intercept and slope of the function, and n is the number of alternatives.
Reaction time is quickest for young adults and gradually slows down with age. It can be improved with practice, up to a point, and it declines under conditions of fatigue and distractions.