Hicks Law

 CQC Intro Unarmed Combat Stick Combat Knife Combat Gun Combat Pacific Archipelago Combat Police Judo CQC Shopping Video Downloads

## Products

Hock's TV Channel

Training Mission 10 - DVD

#### By W. Hock Hochheim

Remember when saying "I'll be there in a second!" meant that you would be there very fast? A second is a very fast and elusive event. Now imagine milliseconds. Can you? There are 1,000 milliseconds splitting one second. Can you imagine that split? How fast can you go? How fast can you get? We usually see milliseconds only discussed in the Olympics and car or horse races.

"She lost by 44 milliseconds!" we hear. Wow! And we wonder, what infinitesimal event occurred during the race, that lost her 44 millisecond lead A small breeze at the turn of lap 5? A muscle twitch? One careless thought? A butterfly's wing flutter 50 feet above? What? How fast can we go? How fast can we think? How fast can we react?

In fighting and in sports, we all know Action beats reaction. If you are reacting to an attack, as the good guys generally are, you are already behind the action curve. Just how behind, scientists have labored intensely to discover over the last 60 years, and like splitting the atom, they have split the single second into one thousand parts to do it.

But, it was about 25 years ago in the late 1980s, I attended a police defensive tactics course and was rather insulted by the attitude of the instructor. We were treated like Neanderthals. He declared, “KISS! Keep it simple, stupid. Hick's Law says that it takes your mind too long to choose between two tactics. Worse with three! Therefore, I will show you only one response." I wondered then and there, "Am I to stay simple and stupid my whole life? Who is this Hick and what is his law?"

It takes too long to know three things? How long was long? How long is TOO long? I wondered? We learned one block versus a high punch that day. What about against a low punch, I thought? My one high block fails to cover much else but that one high attack. Plus this was contrary to all sports, martial arts, military and police training I'd received up to that point. I first thought this statement quirk, then I began to see the message spread.

Later that evening while coaching my son's little league baseball team, I saw this very police instructor coaching his boy's team on another ball field. He was teaching ten year-olds to multi-task and make split-second decisions as his infielders, worked double plays with runners on base. It was clear the coach expected more from these kids than he did from we adult cops that morning. Hick's Law was not to be found on that kid's diamond.

Next, I slid both feet into this thing called Hicks Law, to discover it was a growing favorite among law enforcement trainers. Other famous police trainers kept mentioning Hick's Law:

“ - selection time gets compounded exponentially when a person has to select from several choices... ”

" - it takes 58% more time to pick between two choices."

“ - it takes 'about a second' to pick a tactic.”

“ - lag time increases significantly with the greater number of techniques.”

In a world of milliseconds, significantly What is the definition of "significant time?" 58% of what? What exactly is "about a second?" Exponentially? Compounded? I had to delve even deeper into these very cavalier statements. They seemed to have a hidden agenda in training. The agenda was to sell training courses and dumb-down people and training? If I was going to become this pessimistic, I needed more proof. I hit the textbooks and contacted the experts. (No internet back then!)

The actual original Hick's idea was based on a computer study, a paper written in 1952 and simply set up an equation that states it takes time to decide between options. Just for the record, the equation is TR+a+b{Log2 (N)}. A computer performance study? Do you think that 1950s computers ran a bit slow? This 1950s idea was then extrapolated into human performance? Usually based on very primitive, 1950s old "see-then-push-button" tests were used. The lab method had the testee selecting from several buttons on sudden command. Somehow from this 1950s, button-test, I suddenly couldn't learn two punches in 1980s? The mythology of the slow brain, the slow, stuttering, decision-making brain premise developed into a modern combatives training doctrine thanks to some people reading, misusing and misinterpreting a Hick's Law. Today, programmers still ponder Hick's, like when they make long menu lists on web pages, preferring to to use shorter lists to attract customers and short attention spans.

Jason Gross of Smashing magazine says, "we have to remember that Hick's Law did not come about with the invention of the Internet. Hick's research simply shed light on how a website's options affect the speed and ease of the user's decision making. This makes for a pretty broad scope, because we aren't measuring physical responses..."

Those extrapolating computer screen reading on over to physical fighting often use the term "exponentially time for decision making." Instructors often ignorantly tag Hick's law with "exponential math." Bare with me as I repeat the math experts here - "any exponential function is a constant multiple of its own derivative." That is bad enough, but many still just blindly associate a never-ending, doubling ratio to Hick's - that is, for every two choices, selection time doubles per added choice. Yet, despite all these quotes on times, Hicks made no official proclamation on the milliseconds it takes to mentally decide between option choices. Meanwhile, experts say that logarithm math actually relates more to to Hicks, not the doubling ratio. Still, doubling persists in trainers minds, doctrines and outlines.

There is a general, consensus in the modern Kinesiology community that Simple Reaction Time, called SRT, takes an average of 100 or 150 milliseconds to decide to take any action. That's considerably less than a quarter of a second-or 250 milliseconds, or a 500 millisecond "half-a-second," or the loose "about a second" we hear from martial trainers. Lets re-establish that there are 1,000 milliseconds in one second-a fact that makes all these time studies fall to include into a proper perspective. 1,000 of them! More than 1,000 milliseconds passed before you can read the first number in that number aloud.

Based on the doubling/exponentially rule with the commonly discussed SRT average, then choosing between two choices must take 300 milliseconds. Run out that time-table. Three choices? 600 milliseconds. Four choices? 1 second and 200 milliseconds. A mere five choices? 2 seconds and 400 milliseconds! Six? 4 full seconds and 800 milliseconds. Should a boxer learn 5 tactics? That would mean 9 seconds and 600 milliseconds to choose one tactic from another? You would really see people physically shut down while trying to select options at this point and beyond. Has this been your viewing experience of a football game? Basketball? Tennis? Has this been your experience as a witness to life? Under this casual, exponential increase rule, it would seem athletes would stand dumbfounded, as index cards rolled through their heads in an attempt to pick a choice of action. Every eye jab could not be blocked if the blocker was taught even just two blocks. The eye attack would hit the eyes as the defender sluggishly selects between the two blocks.

One then begins to wonder how a football game can be played, how a jazz pianist functions, or how a bicyclist can pedal himself in a New York City rush hour. How does a boxer, who sees a spilt-second opening, select a jab, or a cross, hook, uppercut, overhand combination or to step back straight, right or left? If he dares to throw combination punches how can he select them so quickly?

Simple, modern athletic performance studies attack the simplistic, doubling rule, but we need not only look to athletes. How can a typist type so quickly? Look at all the selections on a computer? 26 letters-plus options! How can you read this typed essay? How can your mind select and process from 26 different letters in the alphabet and spell with speed? How can an elderly person drive a car across town? A child play soccer? It is obvious that the exponential rule of “doubling” with each option, has serious scientific problems when you run a simple math table out, or just look about you at everyday life. And, despite the constant use of the word exponentially by quoters, real experts clarify that logarithms should be used. Exponential or logarithms the math of many choices do not play in the life we see around us.

New tests upon new tests on skills like driving vehicles, flying, sports and psychology, have created so many layers of fresh information. Larish and Stelmach in 1982 established that one could select from 20 complex options in 340 milliseconds, providing the complex choices have been previously trained. One other study even had a reaction time of .03 milliseconds between two trained choices! .03! Merkel's Law, for example, says that trouble begins when a person has to select between 8 choices, but can still select a choice from the eight well under 500 milliseconds. Brace yourself! Mowbray and Rhoades Law of 1959, or the Welford Law of 1986, even found no difference in reaction time at all, when selecting from numerous, well-trained choices.

Why all these time differences? Sometimes experts challenge test results by questioning the test process and equipment involved. In 2003, I conducted an email survey of 50 college university professors of Psychology and Kinesiology. It is crystal clear that training makes a considerable difference in reaction time. Plus, people, tests and testing equipment are different. Respondents state that every person and the skills they perform in tests vary, so reaction times vary. One universal difficulty mentioned by researchers is the mechanical task of splitting the second in their testing - that is identifying the exact millisecond that the tested reaction took place. Many recorded tests are performed by under-grads in less than favorable conditions.

The test-givers themselves have reaction time issues that effect time recording in their tests. When milliseconds count, milliseconds can be wasted as the tester sees the testee react, then reacts with a stopwatch device, either estimating or losing milliseconds in their own reaction process. Common test machinery takes milliseconds to register a choice. Results can get vague and slippery within the tiny world of a single second. Documenting milliseconds in the 1950s through the 1980s was primitive compared to modern, sophisticated labs.

The KISS Method- not well thought out as a doctrine and message. Many unintended messages and consequences are involved.

Discoveries made in 1990s, decades after the 1950s Hick's law began, blowing the original, antiquated "mental rolodex/task selection" concept out of the water as an important martial training tenet. The brain has a fast track! Below, researchers Martin D. Topper, Ph.D., and Jack M. Feldman, Ph.D. write about them:

"Currently, the best explanation is provided by psychologist Gary Klein, Senior Scientist at MacroCognition LLC., in his Sources of Power: How People Make Decisions. He's proposed that the human brain is capable of multi-tasking. Gary's theory works like this:

"A visual image is picked up by the retina and is transmitted to the visual center of the brain in the occipital lobe. From there the image is sent to two locations in the brain. On the one hand, it goes to the higher levels of the cerebral cortex which is the seat of full conscious awareness. There, in the frontal lobes, the image is available to be recognized, analyzed, input into a decision process and acted upon as the person considers appropriate. Let's call this "the slow track," because full recognition of the meaning of a visual image, analyzing what it represents, deciding what to do and then doing it takes time. Some psychologists also refer to this mental process as System II cognition. If you used System II cognition in critical situations like a skid, you wouldn't have enough time to finish processing the OODA Loop before your car went over the cliff.

Fortunately, there's a second track, which we'll call "the fast track," or System I Cognition. In this system, the image is also sent to a lower, pre-conscious region of the brain, which is the amygdala. This area of the brain stores visual memory and performs other mental operations as well. The visual image is compared here on a pre-conscious level at incredible speed with many thousands of images that are stored in memory. Let's call each image a "frame" which is a term that Dr. Erving Goffman used in his book Frame Analysis to describe specific, cognitively-bounded sets of environmental conditions. I like to use the word "frame" here because the memory probably contains more than just visual information. There may be sound, kinesthetic, tactile, olfactory or other sensory information that also helps complement the visual image contained within the frame - fortunately, the fast and slow tracks are usually complimentary, one focusing on insight, the other on action. Together they produce a synergistic effect that enhances the actor's chances of survival.

But even though these two tracks are complimentary, we know that some people seem to be much more skilled than others at integrating System 1 and System 2. These especially competent individuals seem to resolve critical situations and also adapt to rapid changes in those situations. They invent routines they have never before performed and act in a fluid, seamless manner without employing full focal awareness."

So at this point in our understanding, we have newer models discovered and developing that tell us something about how the brain can operate on two tracks at the same time, but we don't really have a good idea of how the two levels interact, except to say that the interaction is very fast and complex, and some people do it better than others. We really don't know everything we'd like to know. But we do know that specific types of training can help a person develop unconscious competence, and this is enough to make some suggestions about the kind of training that will help make relatively unskilled people more competent in finding solutions to potentially violent encounters.

And then this news on BDNF: Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor :

"If I had to make a signal that could write messages on the brain from the environment, that would be BDNF." Scientists at Johns Hopkins and the National Cancer Institute have found a "missing link" brain chemical that rises and falls quickly in response to stress, fear or an upbeat mood, and then sculpts nerve circuits in the brain accordingly. Their report, on work done appears in the Dec. 21, 1999 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Further, because research at Hopkins and elsewhere shows that BDNF levels vary with subject's experience as it goes down in stressful situations..."BDNF has all the right features to be the critical signal by which environmental and psychosocial interactions impact on the brain," says neuropathologist Dr. Vassilis E. Koliatsos. "It's very rapid, it's sensitive, and it affects a system critical for emotional life and behavior. "What we believe we've found is a link between what happens to a person on a daily basis and the way the brain responds, from an emotional standpoint, over the long term."

Dr Susan Greenfield has written The Quest For Identity In The 21st Century, in which she discusses the natural ways the human brain grows and adapts. "I'm a neuroscientist and my day-to-day research at Oxford University strives for an ever greater understanding - and therefore maybe, one day, a cure - for Alzheimer's disease. But one vital fact I have learnt is that the brain is not the unchanging organ that we once imagined. It not only goes on developing, changing and, in some tragic cases, eventually deteriorating with age, it is also substantially shaped by what we do to it and by the experience of daily life. When I say 'shaped,' I'm not talking figuratively or metaphorically; I'm talking literally. At a microcellular level, the infinitely complex network of nerve cells that make up the constituent parts of the brain actually change in response to certain experiences and stimuli. The brain, in other words, is malleable. The surrounding environment has a huge impact both on the way our brains develop and how that brain is transformed into a unique human mind."

Doctors Richard A. Schmidt (a decades long expert) and Timothy Donald Lee, in the , ground breaking, 1980s book and subsequent new editions since, Motor Control and Learning reported that task selection is made up of two parts, RT (reaction time) - seeing the problem, and MT (movement time) - physically moving to respond, and thus may be a "few milliseconds " for fast, simple chores, not this compounding, exponential, doubling, half-second and full second formats.

And another major factor, so simply explained in a sentence or two concerns "arousal." Arousal is another word for alertness and also adrenaline in performance sports and psychology. "One of the most investigated factors affecting reaction time is 'arousal' or state of attention, including muscular tension. Reaction time is fastest with an intermediate level of arousal, and deteriorates when the subject is either too relaxed or too tense." (Welford, 1980; Broadbent, 1971; Freeman, 1933)."

Practice helps. Dr. Robert J. Kosinski of Clemson University reported on his research in September of 2010 - "Sanders (1998, p. 21) cited studies showing that when subjects are new to a reaction time task, their reaction times are less consistent than when they've had an adequate amount of practice. Ando et al. (2002) found that reaction time to a visual stimulus decreased with three weeks of practice, and the same research team (2004) reported that the effects of practice last for at least three weeks. Fontani et al. (2006) showed that in karate, more experienced practitioners had shorter reaction times.... Visser et al. (2007)"

Nine decades of performance testing and technology have passed since Hicks simple, little "Computer Choice Law", with new technology and testing on athletes as well as regular, everyday people. Not only are the testing methods better, and the understanding superior, so are the new methodologies created to increase SRT and selection times. Perhaps no better better statement damning the Hicks law model as a foundation in physical training can be found than from neuroplastician Dr. Michael Merzenich, regarded among experts as a leading source on the human brain when reporting in the book, The Brain that Changes Itself, "we can change the very structure of the brain and increase its capacity...unlike a computer, the brain is constantly adapting itself."

In 2012, in the new book, Wait, the Art and Science of Delay, Professor Frank Partnoy collects numerous studies on the split second, or millisecond-second decision making of mental and physical choices. He has all the very latest, 2012, medical and psychological testing on sports, self defense on down to fast-paced, internet stock trading. It is interesting to note that the infamous In this new book, Hick's Law is not even mentioned, not a whisper. That is how research has advanced in this field from the 1950s.

How can we possible improve reaction times?

Aside from the fact that Hicks Law exists in a world of 1,000 milliseconds within one single second, here are some proven methods that improve overall reaction time:

* Sequential Learning - the stringing of tasks working together like connected notes in music, really reduces reaction and selection time.

* Conceptual Learning - is another speed track. In relation to survival training, this means a person first makes an either/or conceptual decision, like “Shoot/Don't shoot,” or, “Move-In/Move Back.” Rather than selecting from a series of hand strikes, in Conceptual Learning, the boxer does not waste milliseconds selecting specific punches, but rather makes one overall decision, “punch many times!” The trained body then takes over, following paths learned from prior repetition training.

* Implicit and Procedural Memory - Misinformed proponents of Hicks Law would have you believe that people are forever stumbling buffoons when given three or more options to choose from. Yet, In Dr. Lee Dye's 2009 article for ABC News, "How the Brain Makes Quick Decisions,” he reports: "(People) …have been helped by a kind of human memory that scientists have been struggling to understand” Dye reports that people use "implicit" memory, a short-term memory that people are not consciously aware they are using. Doctors Ken Paller at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., Joel L. Voss, from the Beckman Institute and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have conducted long-term research on this subject and while they did not specifically involve athletics, the conclusions are consistent with other researchers who are also studying how top athletes can make split-second decisions and take actions. How does a batter hit a fastball when he has to start swinging the bat before the ball even leaves the pitcher's hand? “He relies on visual cues, even if he doesn't know it.” Athletes and people learn to predict and act, and react spontaneously based on very little information. One way is implicit memory.

Implicit memory (IM) is a type of memory in which previous experiences aid in the performance of a task without conscious awareness of these previous experiences. People rely on implicit memory in a form called procedural memory - the type of memory that allows people to remember how to tie their shoes or ride a bicycle without consciously thinking about these activities. Implicit memory taps into procedural memory.

One more definition in this chain of memory and performance. Procedural memory. Connecting small, multi-tasks and problem solving. Examples of procedural learning are learning to ride a bike, learning to touch-type, learning to play a musical instrument or learning to swim as well as performing athletic tasks like sports. For our readers here this includes martial moves, fighting, self defense and combatives. Experts report that procedural memory can be very durable, however perishable like any task. And, the physical fitness to perform these tasks may not be so durable. Given the ravages of aging, a pro tennis player away from the game for many years, is still likely to pick up a tennis racket and beat most common tennis players, but not Wimbleton.

The Good, The Bad and The Simple

Sure, sure, sure, simple is good. I am all for simple. Absolutely. And reaction time is an important concern when you are dodging a knife, pulling a gun, etc. And there may actually come a point in a learning progression when there are way, way too many reactions/techniques to counter an attack, and If these moves are a bit unnatural, and not guided somewhat by some natural reflex, and taught poorly and out of context, a long list of untrained movements may cause performance problems. Poor systems and poor training may lead to untimely confusion. But we are not as simple and slow as Hick's Law misleaders want to scare us.

It seems like the last 8 decades, Hick's Legacy should really be telling us to train more and smarter, not necessarily to be stupid and learn less. Remember one of Einstein's Laws apply also - “Keep it simple…but not too simple.” I like the sound of that much better than stupid instructors KISSING me to keep things stupid. And still we learn more.

I report the following information to remind us that we are not the slugs of Hicks law, or slimed into slow motion in the world of milliseconds, or trapped within a brain that runs like a 1950's morse code program. Take a moment to renew confidence and examine new, 21st Century discoveries of our brain...

Dr. M. Blackspear of the Brain Dynamics Center at the University of Sydney Australia reports that the: "...study of functional inter-dependences between brain regions is a rapidly growing focus of neuroscience research. This endeavor has been greatly facilitated by the appearance of a number of innovative methodologies for the examination of neurophysiological and neuroimaging data." This Blackspear statement was made about the amazing new discoveries in 2005 and of how fast, repeat HOW FAST the healthy, human brain changes and adapts "on the fly" - which is the new medical, catch phrase for such studies on this now.. People select and change options "mid-flight" in milliseconds split into milliseconds.

Intelligence matters as a variable. "The link between intelligence and reaction time is reviewed in Deary et al. (2001). Serious mental retardation produces slower and more variable reaction times. Among people of normal intelligence, there is a slight tendency for more intelligent people to have faster reaction times, but there is much variation between people of similar intelligence" (Nettelbeck, 1980). The speed advantage of more intelligent people is greatest on tests requiring complex responses (Schweitzer, 2001). This study alone destroys the 60 year-old Hicks law.

"Stimulus–response compatibility" is known to also affect reaction time for the Hick's Law. This means that the response should be similar to the stimulus itself. For example, turning a wheel to turn the wheels of the car is good stimulus–response compatibility. The action the user performs is similar to the response the driver receives from the car. Hitting a red button when another red button comes on. Similarity. Familiarity. Training creates this similarity and familiarity.

6 or more choices? 400 milliseconds to choose or 2, 4 or even 6 seconds to rolodex through all of them? Remember the police trainer's quote of "about a second per choice?" Let's go back to the ol' ball game - and back to the baseball analogy that started this article. We expect a common shortstop in baseball to perform a select list of actions instantly at the crack of the bat. The baseball shortstop is expected to:

# - catch the ball traversing across second base for a double play, or

- instantly consider consequences to the overall game, like diving for the ball and missing

Moves all to be executed in the sheer "splitest" of a split second? Then, our ape man, ball player has even more split-second, follow-up decisions to make with runner's on different bases. Even a child playing shortstop has a lot to decide and very fast, AND can do it faster than 4 or 6 seconds or more! I hope that the police trainer I mentioned in the beginning of this essay is reading this and not just when he teaches his kids in little league, but when he teaches his adults in law enforcement tactics. In fact, I hope all martial instructors are listening?

In Summary

Recently in 2011, someone accused me of claiming that Hick's Law doesn't exist and I was ignorant of what Hick's Law really is. Of course it exists. A Mr. William Edmund Hick existed. This British psychologist, Mr. Hicks created a test and his test had results. The results were that response took time. The central point of all this reaction research? Milliseconds. It is really about milliseconds. Remember, there are 1,000 milliseconds in a second! Various studies produce various millisecond results. All have improved on the Hicks 1950s response times, yet trainers use this law because of their "dumb-down" agendas or they are ignorant and just regurgitate other trainers.

Probably the single reason Hick's Law has been spread in the last few decades in the police, martial and military fields is as a sales pitch to sell training programs. But, just how fast can we get? How dumb should we be to fight back confusion and stalling out? Don't ask Mr. Hick from the 1950s. Mr. Hick was not conducting tests on baseball or fighting or physical reactions, and the 1950s computer he used belongs in the stone age of museum pieces.

###### Much more workable!

1) Hicks Law exists.

2) It is based on splitting milliseconds. There are 1,000 milliseconds within one second. Not many know this.

3) There are other, more modern reaction studies with differing and even faster results than Hicks.

4) Hicks law is misused. It is misunderstood. It is blindly regurgitated.

5) The misuses and misunderstandings are used to sell training programs, or to feign certain expertise.

6) It is used to dumb-down police, military and martial arts programs.

7) People can only get so fast within these milliseconds anyway.

8) Hicks widely accepted version of math and expanding delays between multiple choices cannot be played out in the reality we witness in our daily lives around us.

9) Many other definable issues can cause choice-delay and all delays cannot be blamed on Hicks Law.

10) Hicks Law and it's milliseconds are virtually inconsequential as a martial training tenet.

*****

An example of a famous instructor misusing Hick's Law - See the 23 April entry click here

Read more! Brain Size and Intelligence? Fact of Fiction- Click

Got an opinion on this one? Or new research? We'd like to hear it and add it here. Post it at HocksCombatForum. Click here

Another book to read on this subject...

Thinking Fast and Slow By Daniel Kahneman

So much training mythology (notice I did not say "methodology") concerns itself with choice selection under stress, and as a result the 60-year-old "Hicks Law" has been regurgitated over and over again, rather mindlessly, as a reason not to learn too many things. Hicks is a very broad, misleading and ill-informed law causing a general dumbing-down" of individual potential. Here's a book that inspects the thinking and decision process in very big and modern way, immaculately researched by this expert - the author himself. This is NOT a book about fighting, though police, military and firefighters are often referenced. This is about about thinking fast and slow, and it shoves the abstract, Hick's Law further and further over into the dark corner where it belongs.

*****

W. Hock Hochheim is a military and police vet with multiple black belts. he currently teaches practical, tactical hand, stick, knife and gun tactics and strategies in 11 allied countries each year. He can be reached through www.HocksCQC.com