Tall people have slower nerves, sensory lag

Frontal Cortex has alerted me to an interesting NPR radio segment on the fact that taller people have longer nerves and so will have slight sensory lag in comparison to shorter people.

It prompted me to look up some of the research in the area and I found an eye-opening study looking at a range of factors that can effect nerve conduction.

The researchers found that, after controlling for sex, age and temperature (it turns out your nerves are quicker when you’re warm), there was a 0.27 m/s decrease in the conduction speed of one of the leg nerves (the sural nerve) for each additional centimetre in height.

This is interesting because it is not only a reduction in time because the same speed signal is travelling a longer distance, but it actually seems that nerve signals travel more slower through longer nerves as well, owing to the fact the nerves get thinner the longer they are.

The radio segment suggests that taller people don’t experience the world as any different, because our brains try to make everything seem ‘in sync’.

In fact, this is a problem for everyone, no matter how tall we are, because we know we can update our actions quicker than the sensory signals can reach the brain.

In one of the most popular theories that attempt to explain this it it thought that we have an internal simulation of our actions that we can use to make fast decisions which is updated as and when sensory information arrives.

However, I tried to find some studies on whether taller people actually have slower reaction times, but I couldn’t find any, so let me know if you do.

Link to NPR ‘The Secret Advantage Of Being Short’.
Link to study on nerve conduction factors.
Link to DOI entry for same.

6 Comments

  1. Caleb Zhang
    Posted May 20, 2009 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    There’s a 0.2 correlation between height & g.

  2. fanatixx
    Posted May 21, 2009 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    g as in general intelligence?

  3. Posted May 21, 2009 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    At 0.27ms per cm of height, it might be significant, but its hardly a large effect.
    I’m quite tall, but even if I was 30cm taller than another person, thats still only a difference of about 10ms (average reaction speed is supposed to be something like 250ms if I recall correctly).
    Still the 50ft woman would be badly effected, about 450ms slower than most people, which would definately be noticable.

  4. Randwolf
    Posted February 7, 2013 at 4:28 am | Permalink

    Sure. I’ve been around some very tall people and their senses are very slow in comparison. I just get things faster than they do and am able to capitalize on them. But, I do believe that their inherent slowness is not because their height. I believe it is because they are used to not having to be able to think on their toes as much, having used their height to an advantage to get what they desire. I believe it is a self trained aspect of mental slowness. I believe that given enough time, taller people are capable of achieving awesome mental feats, even surpassing shorter persons. I believe that it should be the goal of the shorter person to achieve the slowness and consistency of a taller person, and the goal of a taller person to achieve quickness and intrepidness of the shorter person.

  5. Daniel
    Posted November 3, 2013 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

    “The radio segment suggests that taller people don’t experience the world as any different, because our brains try to make everything seem ‘in sync’.”

    I have been doing research on this area myself and that statement is clearly not true or at least it is poorly worded. The more accurate way of saying this is that tall people do experience reality differently than short people do but for the most part that difference is so subtle that it makes no practical difference. It would only make a difference at the margin where a .2 millisecond lag is meaningful.

  6. tomstafford
    Posted November 4, 2013 at 6:49 am | Permalink

    Wait, “0.27 m/s” is 0.27 metres per second, right? A 27 cm per second difference. Which is huge, for a signal that is only travelling a max of approx 1 metre.


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