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Your score breakdown

Time (ms)
Single task blocks (where you were only doing one thing)
Response time in Emotions block575
Response time in Gender block418
Switching block (where you were switching from one thing to the other)
Response time for Emotions just after switch1058%2E81818181818
Response time for Emotions not after switch908%2E833333333333
Response time for Gender just after switch1102%2E08333333333
Response time for Gender not after switch911
Cost of switching171
Impulsiveness score (based on questionnaire)84

Your impulsiveness score will lie between 34 and 136, because of the way the test is structured. A higher score means a more impulsive personality. The average for people taking this test lies between 60 and 70, but it varys a lot. You shouldn't read too much into the actual value you get, because it can be affected by various temporary factors. Similarly, the reaction times above are affected by many factors, like tiredness and distractions around you. It's also the case that the test was comparatively short, so if your mind went blank for a second and you forgot what you were doing, that would have a big effect on your final reaction times. Not everyone is asked to complete the impulsivity questionnaire, so if you got a score of 0, it means you didn't do the test.


About the test

This test is actually trying to answer a few questions raised by the research discussed in the Personality programme.

It all centres around the frontal lobes. They are the control centre of the brain, they piece together information coming from sight, sound and memory, and it's from them you are able to control the decisions you make. Most of the time.

This experiment gives the frontal lobes a thorough workout! They have to identify emotion or gender within a split second, while at the same time keeping control over whether you should respond male-female or happy-sad.


Gender and emotion

What happens when you see a face? How do you identify it? The easiest explanation is that you gradually build up a picture of the face in your brain, over a few hundredths of a second, and once the pictureís good enough youíre able to tell whether itís male, female, happy or sad. But itís actually more complex than that. Different parts of the brain handle the emotion or the gender of a face, and they work in parallel. So while one part is deciding whether the face youíre looking at is happy or sad, a completely different part is trying to work out whether itís male or female. This could be interesting for a few reasons. First, we know that children get slower at identifying the emotion in faces when they hit puberty. But we donít know exactly why. It could be because of something really general Ė like they donít try as hard, or their whole brain is in turmoil, making any task hard. But it could be something really specific Ė like the bit of the brain that decodes emotions starts reprogramming itself at puberty. This experiment lets us see whether children get slower at making male-female judgements as well as emotions, telling us how general their temporary handicap is.

The same goes for older people. As we age, we become a bit slower at processing the outside world. But again, we donít know exactly why, or how general this slowing is. It might be that picking up anything from someoneís face becomes harder as we age. But it might be that, say, working out someoneís emotion remains easy, but guessing their gender gets harder. Again, weíll get a better feel for how the different bits of the brain that process faces are affected by the same factors, like age and hormones.

Doing two things at once

When people do a single task for a period of time, like you did at the start of the experiment, they get pretty quick at it. But when they have to switch between tasks, they have more difficulty. Psychologists think there are two reasons for this. First, thereís a general cost of knowing you will be doing two different things - keeping more than one set of 'rules' for how to respond available. Second, thereís the specific increase in processing time at the instant you switch from one task to the other, as your brain tries to recall the 'rules' for the new task - what key to press for a given face. You also have to suppress the urge to carry on doing what you were doing before rather than performing the other task. So if youíve just been deciding if faces were male or female, itís actually quite hard to stop yourself responding male-female even if you know youíre meant to start doing happy-sad. Itís like the difficulty children find in suppressing their urge to grab a tasty looking sweet, even if they know they shouldnít, as the Personality programme shows.

Thatís why weíre running this experiment. We know that people who are impulsive find it difficult to stop themselves acting on an idea when it gets into their head. This is partly because their frontal lobes donít suppress the urge enough for a person to think about whether theyíre about to do something silly. But does this sound familiar? To switch efficiently between tasks you need to be able to suppress the response you would have made, and to control your impulses you have to suppress the action you instinctively want to make. We know that both use the frontal lobes. So what we want to find out is whether impulsive people also find it difficult to switch between tasks. This would show whether there is a link between how good people are at doing two things at once and how impulsive they are. The frontal lobes are not well understood, so this experiment should help reveal more about how they work.

See the overall results

After the series finishes, weíll put the results of the experiment online, linked from the BBC Human Mind index page, so youíll be able to see the results of your, and everyone elseís, participation. If you want to have another go at the experiment, please enter your age as 105 Ė it means we wonít end up counting your results twice. People get faster with practice, so we donít want to give you an unfair advantage!

More tests

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