I think questions are better if they're asking about how to respond to situations than how to react.

Since it's better to quote peer-reviewed articles than myself speak about this, let's see one from Psychology Today:

A reaction is instant. It’s driven by the beliefs, biases, and prejudices of the unconscious mind. When you say or do something “without thinking,” that’s the unconscious mind running the show. A reaction is based in the moment and doesn’t take into consideration long term effects of what you do or say. A reaction is survival-oriented and on some level a defense mechanism. It might turn out okay but often a reaction is something you regret later.

A response on the other hand usually comes more slowly. It’s based on information from both the conscious mind and unconscious mind. A response will be more “ecological,” meaning that it takes into consideration the well-being of not only you but those around you. It weighs the long term effects and stays in line with your core values.

A reaction and a response may look exactly alike. But they feel different.

What does the community say? Agree with my theory? Should we rephrase future questions this way?

To see the current status of questions:

  1. https://interpersonal.stackexchange.com/search?q=%22respond%22
  2. https://interpersonal.stackexchange.com/search?q=%22react%22
  • Related: How do you vs How should I
    – NVZ
    Commented Oct 2, 2017 at 7:30
  • 1
    A reaction is instant - A response comes more slowly : paging apaul34208 :)) sorry for the joke, but I really think it's related to "pick a battle". And agreed with you on that one @NVZ.
    – OldPadawan
    Commented Oct 2, 2017 at 7:58
  • @OldPadawan Not really. My question was sparked from this question: How do I react when someone makes a self-deprecating remark about her look? and many others before that.
    – NVZ
    Commented Oct 2, 2017 at 8:03
  • I wasn't clear enough, sorry. It's about people who react (FGITW) when they should respond. We all should do that : think before we act (old/young warrior). Reaction is epidermal (read: sensentive), Response is thought. I may lack some vocabulary on this one, to properly explain my feelings. Hope I'm not off-topic :)
    – OldPadawan
    Commented Oct 2, 2017 at 8:09
  • @OldPadawan Ah, I see. Your comment is in line with "we should respond to questions, not react to them."
    – NVZ
    Commented Oct 2, 2017 at 8:58
  • 2
    yep, that's it ! as we should respond to people, or respond to acts, and not react unless safety is on the line.
    – OldPadawan
    Commented Oct 2, 2017 at 9:00
  • @OldPadawan definitely related in some cases, but not all.
    – apaul
    Commented Oct 2, 2017 at 14:16
  • Since you mention pedantry, I'm going to climb onto my own hobby horse and point out that Psychology Today is not peer-reviewed: it's a popular psychology magazine. Unfortunately, actual peer-reviewed psychology journals are rarely so easy to digest.
    – 1006a
    Commented Oct 3, 2017 at 13:11
  • @1006a Ha! Good point. Well, at least they're doctors, and I'm not. They also have an editorial board to maintain standards.
    – NVZ
    Commented Oct 3, 2017 at 13:13
  • @1006a Let me be more pedantic; I didn't mention journals, you did. ;) Peer-review can apply to even SE's Q&A.
    – NVZ
    Commented Oct 3, 2017 at 13:18
  • You're right, I should have said peer-reviewed work or similar, as certainly some books and such are subject to actual peer-review. But I think calling SE "peer-reviewed" is somewhat disingenuous, unless you mean that tongue-in-cheek; absent any qualification, the term means something quite specific, and neither PT nor SE meets those standards. Which is not to say PT and SE aren't worth reading or even quoting, or that peer-review is infallible. It's just a matter of having (or not) a particular kind of "stamp of approval".
    – 1006a
    Commented Oct 3, 2017 at 13:26
  • @1006a Of course, tongue in cheek. SE's Q&A have a basic vetting in the form of votes and moderation, but that's it. I think we're having an off-topic discussion. LOL Come to Interpersonal Skills Chat.
    – NVZ
    Commented Oct 3, 2017 at 13:28
  • I'm actually going to be talking about exactly this kind of distinction with a class of psychology undergrads this afternoon, so I had to comment ;-).
    – 1006a
    Commented Oct 3, 2017 at 13:30

2 Answers 2


Those definitions of "reaction" and "response" sound purely made up to me. I've never heard anyone use them that way in normal conversational English. If those are conventional definitions in the specific field of psychology, then cool, but only the Cog Sci site should adopt those definitions, not us.

If I were to give definitions, I would say that a response is part of an exchange, in that it normally implies the response is directed to the person or group of people who first initiated the exchange. Someone says something to me, or writes a letter to me, or does some action to me, and I respond back to them.

A reaction makes no implication about who you are reacting to - a reaction is just as likely to be directed to an uninvolved third party as it is to the person who initiated the situation with you.

If people use these words with these meanings then we should leave the words alone - they are clear and function perfectly fine as is.

  • A fine answer. Upvoted. Your answer is a well-thought-out response to my question. It's not a knee-jerk reaction like "nnooooo". Hehe :)
    – NVZ
    Commented Oct 5, 2017 at 15:53
  • 1
    I've removed a comment to me personally and accepted the rest of the actual answer. :)
    – NVZ
    Commented Oct 5, 2017 at 17:11
  • I only said that because it seemed like something you were happy to call yourself. I don't mind that you've edited it out :) Commented Oct 5, 2017 at 17:17
  • 1
    It was tongue in cheek in my question, but seems like I'm getting flak for it all over the site. Poe's Law had me add the smiley bits, but that was pointless yet. I've edited that out of the question as well.
    – NVZ
    Commented Oct 5, 2017 at 17:20

With respect, I'll suggest that this not be done.

First, I like to believe that any question's OP knows what he wants to say, and that his words are connoting precisely what he wants.

Second, the language is defined by its usage, not how it was used in the past, and not Psychology Today. The fact that it was necessary to include the PT definitions at all suggests strongly that in the actual language as spoken the distinction is a little threadbare.

TL/DR -- There is no equivalent of the Académie française for English.

  • It wasn't necessary to include PT, but I just thought it'd be more credible than my opinions about it. I understand your point, nonetheless. :)
    – NVZ
    Commented Oct 3, 2017 at 2:53
  • @NVZ I sympathize, I really do. Attention to nuance and style and word-propriety can be a beautiful thing. My own sainted father spent decades fighting a desperate rearguard action against the word "gonna". ;D It's just ... even Canute cannot fight the tide. The language and its speakers gwine do as they do...
    – akaioi
    Commented Oct 3, 2017 at 3:17

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .