February 17, 2006

Racial differences in reaction times

Arthur Jensen has been studying reaction times for decades to see if they correlate with IQ. He has a book coming out on the topic, but I think it's safe to say that he has found that whites tend to have faster reaction times than blacks, although blacks tend to be faster at moving. Various people have argued that this is why blacks are not found as race car drivers or in other sports requiring fast reaction times.

Still, I remain skeptical. I want to focus on a particular athletic skill: deciding not to swing at a bad pitch in baseball. With a baseball from a big league pitcher coming at you from 60.5 feet away at 90 mph, the amount of time the batter has to decide whether or not to swing is tiny.

Taking a look at the all time leaders in bases on balls, the biggest ethnic difference that stands out is how few Latin players get a lot of walks. The most walked Spanish-surnamed player of all time is Rafael Palmeiro at #28, followed by Edgar Martinez at #36. The only other Latins are #88 Bernie Williams, #90 Roberto Alomar and #93 Rod Carew. (#75 Keith Hernandez, who was born in San Francisco, is usually not considered a Latin player. Ted Williams and Reggie Jackson were part-Latino, but culturally American.) This would appear to be a cultural, not a genetic, shortcoming in Latin players, since free-swinging Latins come in all colors.

In contrast, African-Americans are well represented at the top with #1 Barry Bonds, #2 Rickey Henderson, and #5 Joe Morgan, and 25 of the top 100. I would very roughly estimate that African-Americans represented about 10-12% of all big-leaguers since 1901, so they are likely over-represented among walk leaders.

Now, some of that may well be related to greater home run power among African-Americans. For example, Barry Bonds set the single season walk record in 2004 with 232 because pitchers are scared to throw it down the middle to Barry now that he has Incredible Hulkified himself. But, Bonds got as many as 151 walks in a season back when he was a normal slugger. And Henderson and Morgan had only moderate power (although a lot of power for men of their small stature).

African Americans on the top 100 list include non-power hitters like Tim Raines, Willie Randolph, Ozzie Smith, and Jim Gilliam.

So, I don't seem much evidence for significantly slower reaction times among blacks from this evidence.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

1 comment:

roundeye said...

Hey I just found this. First, Ricky is sui generis. I love him as a ballplayer and for the dozens of Ricky stories. And the fact that he may be the first person I know who referred to himself exclusively in the third person.

Second: Frank Thomas had an incredible eye and did not juice.

Third: a theory why African Americans are overrepresented: more quick twitch muscle fiber allows a few more millisexonds to wait on a pitch.

Finally, ever hear of the phrase "You can't walk off the island?" Most major leaguers of latin descent are from the Dominican. They are a true meztizo people with spanish, african and native genes. Heck, Sammy Sosa has gone from Latin, to white and now black. Anyway, Dominican players dont walk because in the presabermetric era batting average and h I me runs counted, not obp.