The renowned Danish physicist and Nobel laureate, Niels Bohr, was obsessed with western films and questioned why the cowboy who drew the gun first always lost. His question inspired recent research from the University of Birmingham, where researchers tested for speed differences between self-initiated actions and reactions to those actions by timing the button pushes of subjects.
The results show that reacting to an action produced 10 percent quicker reaction times than the times produced by the subject that initiated the action. In other words, a fighter may counterattack an attack by an opponent quicker than the opponent may complete the initial attack.
However, the reaction may result in greater error than the initial action. In other words, the counterattack may miss its intended target. This is not to say that the counterattack will miss the opponent entirely; it may miss the intended target but still hit another area that will score or do damage.
The authors suggest that different neural pathways may govern these two types of movement, and that the reactive pathway is a bit quicker than the active pathway.