36.1: Sensory Processes - Biology

Skills to Develop

  • Identify the general and special senses in humans
  • Describe three important steps in sensory perception
  • Explain the concept of just-noticeable difference in sensory perception

Senses provide information about the body and its environment. Additionally, we possess general senses, also called somatosensation, which respond to stimuli like temperature, pain, pressure, and vibration. Vestibular sensation, which is an organism’s sense of spatial orientation and balance, proprioception (position of bones, joints, and muscles), and the sense of limb position that is used to track kinesthesia (limb movement) are part of somatosensation. Although the sensory systems associated with these senses are very different, all share a common function: to convert a stimulus (such as light, or sound, or the position of the body) into an electrical signal in the nervous system. This process is called sensory transduction.

There are two broad types of cellular systems that perform sensory transduction. In one, a neuron works with a sensory receptor, a cell, or cell process that is specialized to engage with and detect a specific stimulus. Stimulation of the sensory receptor activates the associated afferent neuron, which carries information about the stimulus to the central nervous system. In the second type of sensory transduction, a sensory nerve ending responds to a stimulus in the internal or external environment: this neuron constitutes the sensory receptor. Free nerve endings can be stimulated by several different stimuli, thus showing little receptor specificity. For example, pain receptors in your gums and teeth may be stimulated by temperature changes, chemical stimulation, or pressure.


The first step in sensation is reception, which is the activation of sensory receptors by stimuli such as mechanical stimuli (being bent or squished, for example), chemicals, or temperature. The receptor can then respond to the stimuli. The region in space in which a given sensory receptor can respond to a stimulus, be it far away or in contact with the body, is that receptor’s receptive field. Think for a moment about the differences in receptive fields for the different senses. For the sense of touch, a stimulus must come into contact with body. For the sense of hearing, a stimulus can be a moderate distance away (some baleen whale sounds can propagate for many kilometers). For vision, a stimulus can be very far away; for example, the visual system perceives light from stars at enormous distances.


The most fundamental function of a sensory system is the translation of a sensory signal to an electrical signal in the nervous system. This takes place at the sensory receptor, and the change in electrical potential that is produced is called the receptor potential. How is sensory input, such as pressure on the skin, changed to a receptor potential? In this example, a type of receptor called a mechanoreceptor (as shown in Figure (PageIndex{1})) possesses specialized membranes that respond to pressure. Disturbance of these dendrites by compressing them or bending them opens gated ion channels in the plasma membrane of the sensory neuron, changing its electrical potential. Recall that in the nervous system, a positive change of a neuron’s electrical potential (also called the membrane potential), depolarizes the neuron. Receptor potentials are graded potentials: the magnitude of these graded (receptor) potentials varies with the strength of the stimulus. If the magnitude of depolarization is sufficient (that is, if membrane potential reaches a threshold), the neuron will fire an action potential. In most cases, the correct stimulus impinging on a sensory receptor will drive membrane potential in a positive direction, although for some receptors, such as those in the visual system, this is not always the case.

Sensory receptors for different senses are very different from each other, and they are specialized according to the type of stimulus they sense: they have receptor specificity. For example, touch receptors, light receptors, and sound receptors are each activated by different stimuli. Touch receptors are not sensitive to light or sound; they are sensitive only to touch or pressure. However, stimuli may be combined at higher levels in the brain, as happens with olfaction, contributing to our sense of taste.

Encoding and Transmission of Sensory Information

Four aspects of sensory information are encoded by sensory systems: the type of stimulus, the location of the stimulus in the receptive field, the duration of the stimulus, and the relative intensity of the stimulus. Thus, action potentials transmitted over a sensory receptor’s afferent axons encode one type of stimulus, and this segregation of the senses is preserved in other sensory circuits. For example, auditory receptors transmit signals over their own dedicated system, and electrical activity in the axons of the auditory receptors will be interpreted by the brain as an auditory stimulus—a sound.

The intensity of a stimulus is often encoded in the rate of action potentials produced by the sensory receptor. Thus, an intense stimulus will produce a more rapid train of action potentials, and reducing the stimulus will likewise slow the rate of production of action potentials. A second way in which intensity is encoded is by the number of receptors activated. An intense stimulus might initiate action potentials in a large number of adjacent receptors, while a less intense stimulus might stimulate fewer receptors. Integration of sensory information begins as soon as the information is received in the CNS, and the brain will further process incoming signals.


Perception is an individual’s interpretation of a sensation. Although perception relies on the activation of sensory receptors, perception happens not at the level of the sensory receptor, but at higher levels in the nervous system, in the brain. The brain distinguishes sensory stimuli through a sensory pathway: action potentials from sensory receptors travel along neurons that are dedicated to a particular stimulus. These neurons are dedicated to that particular stimulus and synapse with particular neurons in the brain or spinal cord.

All sensory signals, except those from the olfactory system, are transmitted though the central nervous system and are routed to the thalamus and to the appropriate region of the cortex. Recall that the thalamus is a structure in the forebrain that serves as a clearinghouse and relay station for sensory (as well as motor) signals. When the sensory signal exits the thalamus, it is conducted to the specific area of the cortex (Figure (PageIndex{2})) dedicated to processing that particular sense.

How are neural signals interpreted? Interpretation of sensory signals between individuals of the same species is largely similar, owing to the inherited similarity of their nervous systems; however, there are some individual differences. A good example of this is individual tolerances to a painful stimulus, such as dental pain, which certainly differ.

Scientific Method Connection

Just-Noticeable DifferenceIt is easy to differentiate between a one-pound bag of rice and a two-pound bag of rice. There is a one-pound difference, and one bag is twice as heavy as the other. However, would it be as easy to differentiate between a 20- and a 21-pound bag?

Question: What is the smallest detectible weight difference between a one-pound bag of rice and a larger bag? What is the smallest detectible difference between a 20-pound bag and a larger bag? In both cases, at what weights are the differences detected? This smallest detectible difference in stimuli is known as the just-noticeable difference (JND).

Background: Research background literature on JND and on Weber’s Law, a description of a proposed mathematical relationship between the overall magnitude of the stimulus and the JND. You will be testing JND of different weights of rice in bags. Choose a convenient increment that is to be stepped through while testing. For example, you could choose 10 percent increments between one and two pounds (1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4, and so on) or 20 percent increments (1.2, 1.4, 1.6, and 1.8).

Hypothesis: Develop a hypothesis about JND in terms of percentage of the whole weight being tested (such as “the JND between the two small bags and between the two large bags is proportionally the same,” or “. is not proportionally the same.”) So, for the first hypothesis, if the JND between the one-pound bag and a larger bag is 0.2 pounds (that is, 20 percent; 1.0 pound feels the same as 1.1 pounds, but 1.0 pound feels less than 1.2 pounds), then the JND between the 20-pound bag and a larger bag will also be 20 percent. (So, 20 pounds feels the same as 22 pounds or 23 pounds, but 20 pounds feels less than 24 pounds.)

Test the hypothesis: Enlist 24 participants, and split them into two groups of 12. To set up the demonstration, assuming a 10 percent increment was selected, have the first group be the one-pound group. As a counter-balancing measure against a systematic error, however, six of the first group will compare one pound to two pounds, and step down in weight (1.0 to 2.0, 1.0 to 1.9, and so on.), while the other six will step up (1.0 to 1.1, 1.0 to 1.2, and so on). Apply the same principle to the 20-pound group (20 to 40, 20 to 38, and so on, and 20 to 22, 20 to 24, and so on). Given the large difference between 20 and 40 pounds, you may wish to use 30 pounds as your larger weight. In any case, use two weights that are easily detectable as different.

Record the observations: Record the data in a table similar to the table below. For the one-pound and 20-pound groups (base weights) record a plus sign (+) for each participant that detects a difference between the base weight and the step weight. Record a minus sign (-) for each participant that finds no difference. If one-tenth steps were not used, then replace the steps in the “Step Weight” columns with the step you are using.

Table (PageIndex{1}): Results of JND Testing (+ = difference; – = no difference)
Step WeightOne pound20 poundsStep Weight

Analyze the data/report the results: What step weight did all participants find to be equal with one-pound base weight? What about the 20-pound group?

Draw a conclusion: Did the data support the hypothesis? Are the final weights proportionally the same? If not, why not? Do the findings adhere to Weber’s Law? Weber’s Law states that the concept that a just-noticeable difference in a stimulus is proportional to the magnitude of the original stimulus.

A sensory activation occurs when a physical or chemical stimulus is processed into a neural signal (sensory transduction) by a sensory receptor. Perception is an individual interpretation of a sensation and is a brain function. Humans have special senses: olfaction, gustation, equilibrium, and hearing, plus the general senses of somatosensation.

Sensory receptors are either specialized cells associated with sensory neurons or the specialized ends of sensory neurons that are a part of the peripheral nervous system, and they are used to receive information about the environment (internal or external). Each sensory receptor is modified for the type of stimulus it detects. For example, neither gustatory receptors nor auditory receptors are sensitive to light. Each sensory receptor is responsive to stimuli within a specific region in space, which is known as that receptor’s receptive field. The most fundamental function of a sensory system is the translation of a sensory signal to an electrical signal in the nervous system.

All sensory signals, except those from the olfactory system, enter the central nervous system and are routed to the thalamus. When the sensory signal exits the thalamus, it is conducted to the specific area of the cortex dedicated to processing that particular sense.


sense of body movement
sensory receptor modified to respond to mechanical disturbance such as being bent, touch, pressure, motion, and sound
individual interpretation of a sensation; a brain function
sense of limb position; used to track kinesthesia
receipt of a signal (such as light or sound) by sensory receptors
receptive field
region in space in which a stimulus can activate a given sensory receptor
receptor potential
membrane potential in a sensory receptor in response to detection of a stimulus
sensory receptor
specialized neuron or other cells associated with a neuron that is modified to receive specific sensory input
sensory transduction
conversion of a sensory stimulus into electrical energy in the nervous system by a change in the membrane potential
vestibular sense
sense of spatial orientation and balance

36.1: Sensory Processes - Biology

By the end of this section, you will have completed the following objectives:

  • Identify the general and special senses in humans
  • Describe three important steps in sensory perception
  • Explain the concept of just-noticeable difference in sensory perception

Senses provide information about the body and its environment. Humans have five special senses: olfaction (smell), gustation (taste), equilibrium (balance and body position), vision, and hearing. Additionally, we possess general senses, also called somatosensation, which respond to stimuli like temperature, pain, pressure, and vibration. Vestibular sensation, which is an organism’s sense of spatial orientation and balance, proprioception (position of bones, joints, and muscles), and the sense of limb position that is used to track kinesthesia (limb movement) are part of somatosensation. Although the sensory systems associated with these senses are very different, all share a common function: to convert a stimulus (such as light, or sound, or the position of the body) into an electrical signal in the nervous system. This process is called sensory transduction.

There are two broad types of cellular systems that perform sensory transduction. In one, a neuron works with a sensory receptor, a cell, or cell process that is specialized to engage with and detect a specific stimulus. Stimulation of the sensory receptor activates the associated afferent neuron, which carries information about the stimulus to the central nervous system. In the second type of sensory transduction, a sensory nerve ending responds to a stimulus in the internal or external environment: this neuron constitutes the sensory receptor. Free nerve endings can be stimulated by several different stimuli, thus showing little receptor specificity. For example, pain receptors in your gums and teeth may be stimulated by temperature changes, chemical stimulation, or pressure.


The most fundamental function of a sensory system is the translation of a sensory signal to an electrical signal in the nervous system. This takes place at the sensory receptor, and the change in electrical potential that is produced is called the receptor potential . How is sensory input, such as pressure on the skin, changed to a receptor potential? In this example, a type of receptor called a mechanoreceptor (as shown in [Figure 1]) possesses specialized membranes that respond to pressure. Disturbance of these dendrites by compressing them or bending them opens gated ion channels in the plasma membrane of the sensory neuron, changing its electrical potential. Recall that in the nervous system, a positive change of a neuron’s electrical potential (also called the membrane potential), depolarizes the neuron. Receptor potentials are graded potentials: the magnitude of these graded (receptor) potentials varies with the strength of the stimulus. If the magnitude of depolarization is sufficient (that is, if membrane potential reaches a threshold), the neuron will fire an action potential. In most cases, the correct stimulus impinging on a sensory receptor will drive membrane potential in a positive direction, although for some receptors, such as those in the visual system, this is not always the case.

Figure 1: (a) Mechanosensitive ion channels are gated ion channels that respond to mechanical deformation of the plasma membrane. A mechanosensitive channel is connected to the plasma membrane and the cytoskeleton by hair-like tethers. When pressure causes the extracellular matrix to move, the channel opens, allowing ions to enter or exit the cell. (b) Stereocilia in the human ear are connected to mechanosensitive ion channels. When a sound causes the stereocilia to move, mechanosensitive ion channels transduce the signal to the cochlear nerve.

Sensory receptors for different senses are very different from each other, and they are specialized according to the type of stimulus they sense: they have receptor specificity. For example, touch receptors, light receptors, and sound receptors are each activated by different stimuli. Touch receptors are not sensitive to light or sound they are sensitive only to touch or pressure. However, stimuli may be combined at higher levels in the brain, as happens with olfaction, contributing to our sense of taste.

36.2 Somatosensation

By the end of this section, you will be able to do the following:

  • Describe four important mechanoreceptors in human skin
  • Describe the topographical distribution of somatosensory receptors between glabrous and hairy skin
  • Explain why the perception of pain is subjective

Somatosensation is a mixed sensory category and includes all sensation received from the skin and mucous membranes, as well from as the limbs and joints. Somatosensation is also known as tactile sense, or more familiarly, as the sense of touch. Somatosensation occurs all over the exterior of the body and at some interior locations as well. A variety of receptor types—embedded in the skin, mucous membranes, muscles, joints, internal organs, and cardiovascular system—play a role.

Recall that the epidermis is the outermost layer of skin in mammals. It is relatively thin, is composed of keratin-filled cells, and has no blood supply. The epidermis serves as a barrier to water and to invasion by pathogens. Below this, the much thicker dermis contains blood vessels, sweat glands, hair follicles, lymph vessels, and lipid-secreting sebaceous glands (Figure 36.4). Below the epidermis and dermis is the subcutaneous tissue, or hypodermis, the fatty layer that contains blood vessels, connective tissue, and the axons of sensory neurons. The hypodermis, which holds about 50 percent of the body’s fat, attaches the dermis to the bone and muscle, and supplies nerves and blood vessels to the dermis.

Somatosensory Receptors

Sensory receptors are classified into five categories: mechanoreceptors, thermoreceptors, proprioceptors, pain receptors, and chemoreceptors. These categories are based on the nature of stimuli each receptor class transduces. What is commonly referred to as “touch” involves more than one kind of stimulus and more than one kind of receptor. Mechanoreceptors in the skin are described as encapsulated (that is, surrounded by a capsule) or unencapsulated (a group that includes free nerve endings). A free nerve ending , as its name implies, is an unencapsulated dendrite of a sensory neuron. Free nerve endings are the most common nerve endings in skin, and they extend into the middle of the epidermis. Free nerve endings are sensitive to painful stimuli, to hot and cold, and to light touch. They are slow to adjust to a stimulus and so are less sensitive to abrupt changes in stimulation.

There are three classes of mechanoreceptors: tactile, proprioceptors, and baroreceptors. Mechanoreceptors sense stimuli due to physical deformation of their plasma membranes. They contain mechanically gated ion channels whose gates open or close in response to pressure, touch, stretching, and sound.” There are four primary tactile mechanoreceptors in human skin: Merkel’s disks, Meissner’s corpuscles, Ruffini endings, and Pacinian corpuscles two are located toward the surface of the skin and two are located deeper. A fifth type of mechanoreceptor, Krause end bulbs, are found only in specialized regions. Merkel’s disks (shown in Figure 36.5) are found in the upper layers of skin near the base of the epidermis, both in skin that has hair and on glabrous skin, that is, the hairless skin found on the palms and fingers, the soles of the feet, and the lips of humans and other primates. Merkel’s disks are densely distributed in the fingertips and lips. They are slow-adapting, encapsulated nerve endings, and they respond to light touch. Light touch, also known as discriminative touch, is a light pressure that allows the location of a stimulus to be pinpointed. The receptive fields of Merkel’s disks are small with well-defined borders. That makes them finely sensitive to edges and they come into use in tasks such as typing on a keyboard.

Visual Connection

Which of the following statements about mechanoreceptors is false?

  1. Pacinian corpuscles are found in both glabrous and hairy skin.
  2. Merkel’s disks are abundant on the fingertips and lips.
  3. Ruffini endings are encapsulated mechanoreceptors.
  4. Meissner’s corpuscles extend into the lower dermis.

Meissner’s corpuscles , (shown in Figure 36.6) also known as tactile corpuscles, are found in the upper dermis, but they project into the epidermis. They, too, are found primarily in the glabrous skin on the fingertips and eyelids. They respond to fine touch and pressure, but they also respond to low-frequency vibration or flutter. They are rapidly adapting, fluid-filled, encapsulated neurons with small, well-defined borders and are responsive to fine details. Like Merkel’s disks, Meissner’s corpuscles are not as plentiful in the palms as they are in the fingertips.

Deeper in the epidermis, near the base, are Ruffini endings , which are also known as bulbous corpuscles. They are found in both glabrous and hairy skin. These are slow-adapting, encapsulated mechanoreceptors that detect skin stretch and deformations within joints, so they provide valuable feedback for gripping objects and controlling finger position and movement. Thus, they also contribute to proprioception and kinesthesia. Ruffini endings also detect warmth. Note that these warmth detectors are situated deeper in the skin than are the cold detectors. It is not surprising, then, that humans detect cold stimuli before they detect warm stimuli.

Pacinian corpuscles (seen in Figure 36.7) are located deep in the dermis of both glabrous and hairy skin and are structurally similar to Meissner’s corpuscles they are found in the bone periosteum, joint capsules, pancreas and other viscera, breast, and genitals. They are rapidly adapting mechanoreceptors that sense deep transient (but not prolonged) pressure and high-frequency vibration. Pacinian receptors detect pressure and vibration by being compressed, stimulating their internal dendrites. There are fewer Pacinian corpuscles and Ruffini endings in skin than there are Merkel’s disks and Meissner’s corpuscles.

In proprioception, proprioceptive and kinesthetic signals travel through myelinated afferent neurons running from the spinal cord to the medulla. Neurons are not physically connected, but communicate via neurotransmitters secreted into synapses or “gaps” between communicating neurons. Once in the medulla, the neurons continue carrying the signals to the thalamus.

Muscle spindles are stretch receptors that detect the amount of stretch, or lengthening of muscles. Related to these are Golgi tendon organs , which are tension receptors that detect the force of muscle contraction. Proprioceptive and kinesthetic signals come from limbs. Unconscious proprioceptive signals run from the spinal cord to the cerebellum, the brain region that coordinates muscle contraction, rather than to the thalamus, like most other sensory information.

Baroreceptors detect pressure changes in an organ. They are found in the walls of the carotid artery and the aorta where they monitor blood pressure, and in the lungs where they detect the degree of lung expansion. Stretch receptors are found at various sites in the digestive and urinary systems.

In addition to these two types of deeper receptors, there are also rapidly adapting hair receptors, which are found on nerve endings that wrap around the base of hair follicles. There are a few types of hair receptors that detect slow and rapid hair movement, and they differ in their sensitivity to movement. Some hair receptors also detect skin deflection, and certain rapidly adapting hair receptors allow detection of stimuli that have not yet touched the skin.

Integration of Signals from Mechanoreceptors

The configuration of the different types of receptors working in concert in human skin results in a very refined sense of touch. The nociceptive receptors—those that detect pain—are located near the surface. Small, finely calibrated mechanoreceptors—Merkel’s disks and Meissner’s corpuscles—are located in the upper layers and can precisely localize even gentle touch. The large mechanoreceptors—Pacinian corpuscles and Ruffini endings—are located in the lower layers and respond to deeper touch. (Consider that the deep pressure that reaches those deeper receptors would not need to be finely localized.) Both the upper and lower layers of the skin hold rapidly and slowly adapting receptors. Both primary somatosensory cortex and secondary cortical areas are responsible for processing the complex picture of stimuli transmitted from the interplay of mechanoreceptors.

Density of Mechanoreceptors

The distribution of touch receptors in human skin is not consistent over the body. In humans, touch receptors are less dense in skin covered with any type of hair, such as the arms, legs, torso, and face. Touch receptors are denser in glabrous skin (the type found on human fingertips and lips, for example), which is typically more sensitive and is thicker than hairy skin (4 to 5 mm versus 2 to 3 mm).

How is receptor density estimated in a human subject? The relative density of pressure receptors in different locations on the body can be demonstrated experimentally using a two-point discrimination test. In this demonstration, two sharp points, such as two thumbtacks, are brought into contact with the subject’s skin (though not hard enough to cause pain or break the skin). The subject reports if he or she feels one point or two points. If the two points are felt as one point, it can be inferred that the two points are both in the receptive field of a single sensory receptor. If two points are felt as two separate points, each is in the receptive field of two separate sensory receptors. The points could then be moved closer and retested until the subject reports feeling only one point, and the size of the receptive field of a single receptor could be estimated from that distance.


In addition to Krause end bulbs that detect cold and Ruffini endings that detect warmth, there are different types of cold receptors on some free nerve endings: thermoreceptors, located in the dermis, skeletal muscles, liver, and hypothalamus, that are activated by different temperatures. Their pathways into the brain run from the spinal cord through the thalamus to the primary somatosensory cortex. Warmth and cold information from the face travels through one of the cranial nerves to the brain. You know from experience that a tolerably cold or hot stimulus can quickly progress to a much more intense stimulus that is no longer tolerable. Any stimulus that is too intense can be perceived as pain because temperature sensations are conducted along the same pathways that carry pain sensations.

Pain is the name given to nociception , which is the neural processing of injurious stimuli in response to tissue damage. Pain is caused by true sources of injury, such as contact with a heat source that causes a thermal burn or contact with a corrosive chemical. But pain also can be caused by harmless stimuli that mimic the action of damaging stimuli, such as contact with capsaicins, the compounds that cause peppers to taste hot and which are used in self-defense pepper sprays and certain topical medications. Peppers taste “hot” because the protein receptors that bind capsaicin open the same calcium channels that are activated by warm receptors.

Nociception starts at the sensory receptors, but pain, inasmuch as it is the perception of nociception, does not start until it is communicated to the brain. There are several nociceptive pathways to and through the brain. Most axons carrying nociceptive information into the brain from the spinal cord project to the thalamus (as do other sensory neurons) and the neural signal undergoes final processing in the primary somatosensory cortex. Interestingly, one nociceptive pathway projects not to the thalamus but directly to the hypothalamus in the forebrain, which modulates the cardiovascular and neuroendocrine functions of the autonomic nervous system. Recall that threatening—or painful—stimuli stimulate the sympathetic branch of the visceral sensory system, readying a fight-or-flight response.


In more advanced animals, the senses are constantly at work, making the animal aware of stimuli—such as light, or sound, or the presence of a chemical substance in the external environment—and monitoring information about the organism’s internal environment. All bilaterally symmetric animals have a sensory system, and the development of any species’ sensory system has been driven by natural selection thus, sensory systems differ among species according to the demands of their environments. The shark, unlike most fish predators, is electrosensitive—that is, sensitive to electrical fields produced by other animals in its environment. While it is helpful to this underwater predator, electrosensitivity is a sense not found in most land animals.

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    It has been believed for some time that inputs from different sensory organs are processed in different areas in the brain, relating to systems neuroscience. Using functional neuroimaging, it can be seen that sensory-specific cortices are activated by different inputs. For example, regions in the occipital cortex are tied to vision and those on the superior temporal gyrus are recipients of auditory inputs. There exist studies suggesting deeper multisensory convergences than those at the sensory-specific cortices, which were listed earlier. This convergence of multiple sensory modalities is known as multisensory integration.

    Sensory processing deals with how the brain processes sensory input from multiple sensory modalities. These include the five classic senses of vision (sight), audition (hearing), tactile stimulation (touch), olfaction (smell), and gustation (taste). Other sensory modalities exist, for example the vestibular sense (balance and the sense of movement) and proprioception (the sense of knowing one's position in space) Along with Time (The sense of knowing where one is in time or activities). It is important that the information of these different sensory modalities must be relatable. The sensory inputs themselves are in different electrical signals, and in different contexts. [6] Through sensory processing, the brain can relate all sensory inputs into a coherent percept, upon which our interaction with the environment is ultimately based.

    Basic structures involved Edit

    The different senses were always thought to be controlled by separate lobes of the brain, [7] called projection areas. The lobes of the brain are the classifications that divide the brain both anatomically and functionally. [8] These lobes are the Frontal lobe, responsible for conscious thought, Parietal lobe, responsible for visuospatial processing, the Occipital lobe, responsible for the sense of sight, and the temporal lobe, responsible for the senses of smell and sound. From the earliest times of neurology, it has been thought that these lobes are solely responsible for their one sensory modality input. [9] However, newer research has shown that that may not entirely be the case.

    Problems Edit

    Sometimes there can be a problem with the encoding of the sensory information. This disorder is known as Sensory processing disorder (SPD). This disorder can be further classified into three main types. [10]

    • Sensory modulation disorder, in which patients seek sensory stimulation due to an over or under response to sensory stimuli.
    • Sensory based motor disorder. Patients have incorrect processing of motor information that leads to poor motor skills.
    • Sensory processing disorder or sensory discrimination disorder, which is characterized by postural control problems, lack of attentiveness, and disorganization.

    There are several therapies used to treat SPD. Anna Jean Ayres claimed that a child needs a healthy "sensory diet," which is all of the activities that children engage in, that gives them the necessary sensory inputs that they need to get their brain into improving sensory processing.

    In the 1930s, Dr. Wilder Penfield was conducting a very bizarre operation at the Montreal Neurological Institute. [11] Dr. Penfield "pioneered the incorporation of neurophysiological principles in the practice of neurosurgery. [4] [12] Dr. Penfield was interested in determining a solution to solve the epileptic seizure problems that his patients were having. He used an electrode to stimulate different regions of the brain's cortex, and would ask his still conscious patient what he or she felt. This process led to the publication of his book, The Cerebral Cortex of Man. The "mapping" of the sensations his patients felt led Dr. Penfield to chart out the sensations that were triggered by stimulating different cortical regions. [13] Mrs. H. P. Cantlie was the artist Dr. Penfield hired to illustrate his findings. The result was the conception of the first sensory Homunculus.

    The Homonculus is a visual representation of the intensity of sensations derived from different parts of the body. Dr. Wilder Penfield and his colleague Herbert Jasper developed the Montreal procedure using an electrode to stimulate different parts of the brain to determine which parts were the cause of the epilepsy. This part could then be surgically removed or altered in order to regain optimal brain performance. While performing these tests, they discovered that the functional maps of the sensory and motor cortices were similar in all patients. Because of their novelty at the time, these Homonculi were hailed as the "E=mc² of Neuroscience". [11]

    There are still no definitive answers to the questions regarding the relationship between functional and structural asymmetries in the brain. [14] There are a number of asymmetries in the human brain including how language is processed mainly in the left hemisphere of the brain. There have been some cases, however, in which individuals have comparable language skills to someone who uses his left hemisphere to process language, yet they mainly use their right or both hemispheres. These cases pose the possibility that function may not follow structure in some cognitive tasks. [14] Current research in the fields of sensory processing and multisensory integration is aiming to hopefully unlock the mysteries behind the concept of brain lateralization.

    Research on sensory processing has much to offer towards understanding the function of the brain as a whole. The primary task of multisensory integration is to figure out and sort out the vast quantities of sensory information in the body through multiple sensory modalities. These modalities not only are not independent, but they are also quite complementary. Where one sensory modality may give information on one part of a situation, another modality can pick up other necessary information. Bringing this information together facilitates the better understanding of the physical world around us.

    It may seem redundant that we are being provided with multiple sensory inputs about the same object, but that is not necessarily the case. This so-called "redundant" information is in fact verification that what we are experiencing is in fact happening. Perceptions of the world are based on models that we build of the world. Sensory information informs these models, but this information can also confuse the models. Sensory illusions occur when these models do not match up. For example, where our visual system may fool us in one case, our auditory system can bring us back to a ground reality. This prevents sensory misrepresentations, because through the combination of multiple sensory modalities, the model that we create is much more robust and gives a better assessment of the situation. Thinking about it logically, it is far easier to fool one sense than it is to simultaneously fool two or more senses.

    One of the earliest sensations is the olfactory sensation. Evolutionary, gustation and olfaction developed together. This multisensory integration was necessary for early humans in order to ensure that they were receiving proper nutrition from their food, and also to make sure that they were not consuming poisonous materials. [ citation needed ] There are several other sensory integrations that developed early on in the human evolutionary time line. The integration between vision and audition was necessary for spatial mapping. Integration between vision and tactile sensations developed along with our finer motor skills including better hand-eye coordination. While humans developed into bipedal organisms, balance became exponentially more essential to survival. The multisensory integration between visual inputs, vestibular (balance) inputs, and proprioception inputs played an important role in our development into upright walkers.

    Audiovisual system Edit

    Perhaps one of the most studied sensory integrations is the relationship between vision and audition. [15] These two senses perceive the same objects in the world in different ways, and by combining the two, they help us understand this information better. [16] Vision dominates our perception of the world around us. This is because visual spatial information is one of the most reliable sensory modalities. Visual stimuli are recorded directly onto the retina, and there are few, if any, external distortions that provide incorrect information to the brain about the true location of an object. [17] Other spatial information is not as reliable as visual spatial information. For example, consider auditory spatial input. The location of an object can sometimes be determined solely on its sound, but the sensory input can easily be modified or altered, thus giving a less reliable spatial representation of the object. [18] Auditory information therefore is not spatially represented unlike visual stimuli. But once one has the spatial mapping from the visual information, multisensory integration helps bring the information from both the visual and auditory stimuli together to make a more robust mapping.

    There have been studies done that show that a dynamic neural mechanism exists for matching the auditory and visual inputs from an event that stimulates multiple senses. [19] One example of this that has been observed is how the brain compensates for target distance. When you are speaking with someone or watching something happen, auditory and visual signals are not being processed concurrently, but they are perceived as being simultaneous. [20] This kind of multisensory integration can lead to slight misperceptions in the visual-auditory system in the form of the ventriloquist effect. [21] An example of the ventriloquism effect is when a person on the television appears to have his voice coming from his mouth, rather than the television's speakers. This occurs because of a pre-existing spatial representation within the brain which is programmed to think that voices come from another human's mouth. This then makes it so the visual response to the audio input is spatially misrepresented, and therefore misaligned.

    Sensorimotor system Edit

    Hand eye coordination is one example of sensory integration. In this case, we require a tight integration of what we visually perceive about an object, and what we tactilely perceive about that same object. If these two senses were not combined within the brain, then one would have less ability to manipulate an object. Eye–hand coordination is the tactile sensation in the context of the visual system. The visual system is very static, in that it doesn't move around much, but the hands and other parts used in tactile sensory collection can freely move around. This movement of the hands must be included in the mapping of both the tactile and visual sensations, otherwise one would not be able to comprehend where they were moving their hands, and what they were touching and looking at. An example of this happening is looking at an infant. The infant picks up objects and puts them in his mouth, or touches them to his feet or face. All of these actions are culminating to the formation of spatial maps in the brain and the realization that "Hey, that thing that's moving this object is actually a part of me." Seeing the same thing that they are feeling is a major step in the mapping that is required for infants to begin to realize that they can move their arms and interact with an object. This is the earliest and most explicit way of experiencing sensory integration.

    In the future, research on sensory integration will be used to better understand how different sensory modalities are incorporated within the brain to help us perform even the simplest of tasks. For example, we do not currently have the understanding needed to comprehend how neural circuits transform sensory cues into changes in motor activities. More research done on the sensorimotor system can help understand how these movements are controlled. [22] This understanding can potentially be used to learn more about how to make better prosthetics, and eventually help patients who have lost the use of a limb. Also, by learning more about how different sensory inputs can combine can have profound effects on new engineering approaches using robotics. The robot's sensory devices may take in inputs of different modalities, but if we understand multisensory integration better, we might be able to program these robots to convey these data into a useful output to better serve our purposes.

    The role of serotonin in sensory processing

    Involved in the regulation of mood, perception and some pathological conditions, serotonin is a key neuromodulator substance, yet its exact role in sensory processing has remained elusive. Specific activation of serotonin containing neurons in the brain using optogenetic tools caused a suppression of spontaneous but not sensory stimulation evoked activity in the olfactory cortex. Our results show for the first time that serotonin regulates the balance between signals generated internally and sensory information from the environment. According to theory, our brains create models about the way &ldquothe world&rdquo (i.e., the external environment) should behave, and updates these models based on incoming sensory inputs. Serotonin, a prominent central neuromodulator and a major target of therapeutic and psychoactive drugs, was found to be involved in this fundamental brain process.

    Serotonin is an important brain chemical implicated in a wide variety of behavioral, cognitive and emotional processes and is an important pharmacological target in the treatment of many psychiatric and neurological diseases. In addition, some psychoactive drugs like LSD and Extasy also target the serotonergic system. However, relatively little is known about its actual role in the healthy brain.

    Figure: Serotonergic photostimulation results in suppression of spontaneous, but not odor, evoked neuronal activity in the primary olfactory cortex. (Left) Action potentials recorded in the olfactory cortex in the presence (bottom) and absence (top) of serotonergic stimulation respectively. Note that while spontaneously occurring action potentials are suppressed by serotonin the odor evoked activity (pink box) is unaltered. (Right) Peri-event time histograms (PSTHs) for each condition computed from all the recorded neurons: top: suppression of spontaneous neuronal activity, middle: activity during odor presentation in the absence (black) and presence (blue) of serotonin stimulation, respectively. Digital subtraction of the photostimulation only from the photostimulation + odor condition yields a PSTH identical to the odor only condition.

    Under normal conditions, sensory neurons, such as the ones located in the primary olfactory cortex, are driven by a combination of bottom-up sensory inputs originating in the environment, and top-down signals that reflect, among other things, predictions regarding the nature of the expected input. Our results show that specific activation of serotonergic neurons in the brainstem dorsal raphé nucleus of mice using optogenetic tools massively influences the activity of neurons in the primary olfactory cortex. When Channelrhodopsin expressing serotonergic neurons were stimulated using an implanted fiberoptic coupled to a blue laser the sponataneous activity of neurons in the olfactory cortex was dramatically reduced on a rapid (

    Our results show that serotonin can suppress internally generated or feedback activity while leaving feed-forward information from the sensory periphery unaltered. When serotonin levels are high these neurons stop responding to the top-down inputs, but maintain the raw sensory input processing intact. This biasing effect, we hypothesize, has significant implications for olfactory perception and learning. Namely that under conditions of high uncertainty, prediction errors result in the elevation of serotonin levels, which in turn mediate unlearning of old, failing models and new learning of better ones.

    Optogenetic activation of dorsal raphe serotonin neurons rapidly inhibits spontaneous but not odor-evoked activity in olfactory cortex. Eran Lottem*, Magor L. Lőrincz* and Zachary F. Mainen (2016) The Journal of Neuroscience, 36(1): 7-18 doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3008-15.2016. *equal contribution


    Chronic stress and a lack of coping resources available or used by an individual can often lead to the development of psychological issues such as delusions, [7] depression and anxiety (see below for further information). [8] This is particularly true regarding chronic stressors. These are stressors that may not be as intense as an acute stressor like a natural disaster or a major accident, but they persist over longer periods of time. These types of stressors tend to have a more negative effect on health because they are sustained and thus require the body's physiological response to occur daily. [9]

    This depletes the body's energy more quickly and usually occurs over long periods of time, especially when these microstressors cannot be avoided (i.e. stress of living in a dangerous neighborhood). See allostatic load for further discussion of the biological process by which chronic stress may affect the body. For example, studies have found that caregivers, particularly those of dementia patients, have higher levels of depression and slightly worse physical health than non-caregivers. [9]

    When humans are under chronic stress, permanent changes in their physiological, emotional, and behavioral responses may occur. [10] Chronic stress can include events such as caring for a spouse with dementia, or may result from brief focal events that have long term effects, such as experiencing a sexual assault. Studies have also shown that psychological stress may directly contribute to the disproportionately high rates of coronary heart disease morbidity and mortality and its etiologic risk factors. Specifically, acute and chronic stress have been shown to raise serum lipids and are associated with clinical coronary events. [11]

    However, it is possible for individuals to exhibit hardiness—a term referring to the ability to be both chronically stressed and healthy. [12] Even though psychological stress is often connected with illness or disease, most healthy individuals can still remain disease-free after being confronted with chronic stressful events. This suggests that there are individual differences in vulnerability to the potential pathogenic effects of stress individual differences in vulnerability arise due to both genetic and psychological factors. In addition, the age at which the stress is experienced can dictate its effect on health. Research suggests chronic stress at a young age can have lifelong effects on the biological, psychological, and behavioral responses to stress later in life. [13]

    The term "stress" had none of its contemporary connotations before the 1920s. It is a form of the Middle English destresse, derived via Old French from the Latin stringere, "to draw tight". [14] The word had long been in use in physics to refer to the internal distribution of a force exerted on a material body, resulting in strain. In the 1920s and '30s, biological and psychological circles occasionally used the term to refer to a mental strain or to a harmful environmental agent that could cause illness.

    Walter Cannon used it in 1926 to refer to external factors that disrupted what he called homeostasis. [15] But ". stress as an explanation of lived experience is absent from both lay and expert life narratives before the 1930s". [16] Physiological stress represents a wide range of physical responses that occur as a direct effect of a stressor causing an upset in the homeostasis of the body. Upon immediate disruption of either psychological or physical equilibrium the body responds by stimulating the nervous, endocrine, and immune systems. The reaction of these systems causes a number of physical changes that have both short- and long-term effects on the body. [ citation needed ]

    The Holmes and Rahe stress scale was developed as a method of assessing the risk of disease from life changes. [17] The scale lists both positive and negative changes that elicit stress. These include things such as a major holiday or marriage, or death of a spouse and firing from a job.

    Homeostasis is a concept central to the idea of stress. [18] In biology, most biochemical processes strive to maintain equilibrium (homeostasis), a steady state that exists more as an ideal and less as an achievable condition. Environmental factors, internal or external stimuli, continually disrupt homeostasis an organism's present condition is a state of constant flux moving about a homeostatic point that is that organism's optimal condition for living. [19] Factors causing an organism's condition to diverge too far from homeostasis can be experienced as stress. A life-threatening situation such as a major physical trauma or prolonged starvation can greatly disrupt homeostasis. On the other hand, an organism's attempt at restoring conditions back to or near homeostasis, often consuming energy and natural resources, can also be interpreted as stress. [20]

    The ambiguity in defining this phenomenon was first recognized by Hans Selye (1907–1982) in 1926. In 1951 a commentator loosely summarized Selye's view of stress as something that ". in addition to being itself, was also the cause of itself, and the result of itself". [21] [22]

    First to use the term in a biological context, Selye continued to define stress as "the non-specific response of the body to any demand placed upon it". Neuroscientists such as Bruce McEwen and Jaap Koolhaas believe that stress, based on years of empirical research, "should be restricted to conditions where an environmental demand exceeds the natural regulatory capacity of an organism". [23] Indeed, in 1995 Toates already defined stress as a "chronic state that arises only when defense mechanisms are either being chronically stretched or are actually failing," [24] while according to Ursin (1988) stress results from an inconsistency between expected events ("set value") and perceived events ("actual value") that cannot be resolved satisfactorily, [25] which also puts stress into the broader context of cognitive-consistency theory. [26]

    Stress can have many profound effects on the human biological systems. [27] Biology primarily attempts to explain major concepts of stress using a stimulus-response paradigm, broadly comparable to how a psychobiological sensory system operates. The central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) plays a crucial role in the body's stress-related mechanisms. Whether one should interpret these mechanisms as the body's response to a stressor or embody the act of stress itself is part of the ambiguity in defining what exactly stress is.

    The central nervous system works closely with the body's endocrine system to regulate these mechanisms. The sympathetic nervous system becomes primarily active during a stress response, regulating many of the body's physiological functions in ways that ought to make an organism more adaptive to its environment. Below there follows a brief biological background of neuroanatomy and neurochemistry and how they relate to stress. [ citation needed ]

    Stress, either severe, acute stress or chronic low-grade stress may induce abnormalities in three principal regulatory systems in the body: serotonin systems, catecholamine systems, and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical axis. Aggressive behavior has also been associated with abnormalities in these systems. [28]

    The brain endocrine interactions are relevant in the translation of stress into physiological and psychological changes. The autonomic nervous system (ANS), as mentioned above, plays an important role in translating stress into a response. The ANS responds reflexively to both physical stressors (for example baroreception), and to higher level inputs from the brain. [29]

    The ANS is composed of the parasympathetic nervous system and sympathetic nervous system, two branches that are both tonically active with opposing activities. The ANS directly innervates tissue through the postganglionic nerves, which is controlled by preganglionic neurons originating in the intermediolateral cell column. The ANS receives inputs from the medulla, hypothalamus, limbic system, prefrontal cortex, midbrain and monoamine nuclei. [30]

    The activity of the sympathetic nervous system drives what is called the "fight or flight" response. The fight or flight response to emergency or stress involves mydriasis, increased heart rate and force contraction, vasoconstriction, bronchodilation, glycogenolysis, gluconeogenesis, lipolysis, sweating, decreased motility of the digestive system, secretion of the epinephrine and cortisol from the adrenal medulla, and relaxation of the bladder wall. The parasympathetic nervous response, "rest and digest", involves return to maintaining homeostasis, and involves miosis, bronchoconstriction, increased activity of the digestive system, and contraction of the bladder walls. [29] Complex relationships between protective and vulnerability factors on the effect of childhood home stress on psychological illness, cardiovascular illness and adaption have been observed. [31] ANS related mechanisms are thought to contribute to increased risk of cardiovascular disease after major stressful events. [32]

    The HPA axis is a neuroendocrine system that mediates a stress response. Neurons in the hypothalamus, particularly the paraventricular nucleus, release vasopressin and corticotropin releasing hormone, which travel through the hypophysial portal vessel where they travel to and bind to the corticotropin-releasing hormone receptor on the anterior pituitary gland. Multiple CRH peptides have been identified, and receptors have been identified on multiple areas of the brain, including the amygdala. CRH is the main regulatory molecule of the release of ACTH. [33]

    The secretion of ACTH into systemic circulation allows it to bind to and activate Melanocortin receptor, where it stimulates the release of steroid hormones. Steroid hormones bind to glucocorticoid receptors in the brain, providing negative feedback by reducing ACTH release. Some evidence supports a second long term feedback that is non-sensitive to cortisol secretion. The PVN of the hypothalamus receives inputs from the nucleus of the solitary tract, and lamina terminalis. Through these inputs, it receives and can respond to changes in blood. [33]

    The PVN innervation from the brain stem nuclei, particularly the noradrenergic nuclei stimulate CRH release. Other regions of the hypothalamus both directly and indirectly inhibit HPA axis activity. Hypothalamic neurons involved in regulating energy balance also influence HPA axis activity through the release of neurotransmitters such as neuropeptide Y, which stimulates HPA axis activity. Generally, the amygdala stimulates, and the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus attenuate, HPA axis activity however, complex relationships do exist between the regions. [33]

    The immune system may be heavily influenced by stress. The sympathetic nervous system innervates various immunological structures, such as bone marrow and the spleen, allowing for it to regulate immune function. The adrenergic substances released by the sympathetic nervous system can also bind to and influence various immunological cells, further providing a connection between the systems. The HPA axis ultimately results in the release of cortisol, which generally has immunosuppressive effects. However, the effect of stress on the immune system is disputed, and various models have been proposed in an attempt to account for both the supposedly "immunodeficiency" linked diseases and diseases involving hyper activation of the immune system. One model proposed to account for this suggests a push towards an imbalance of cellular immunity(Th1) and humoral immunity(Th2). The proposed imbalance involved hyperactivity of the Th2 system leading to some forms of immune hypersensitivity, while also increasing risk of some illnesses associated with decreased immune system function, such as infection and cancer. [6]

    Chronic stress is a term sometimes used to differentiate it from acute stress. Definitions differ, and may be along the lines of continual activation of the stress response, [34] stress that causes an allostatic shift in bodily functions, [4] or just as "prolonged stress". [35] For example, results of one study demonstrated that individuals who reported relationship conflict lasting one month or longer have a greater risk of developing illness and show slower wound healing. Similarly, the effects that acute stressors have on the immune system may be increased when there is perceived stress and/or anxiety due to other events. For example, students who are taking exams show weaker immune responses if they also report stress due to daily hassles. [36] While responses to acute stressors typically do not impose a health burden on young, healthy individuals, chronic stress in older or unhealthy individuals may have long-term effects that are detrimental to health. [37]

    Immunological Edit

    Acute time-limited stressors, or stressors that lasted less than two hours, results in an up regulation of natural immunity and down regulation of specific immunity. This type of stress saw in increase in granulocytes, natural killer cells, IgA, Interleukin 6, and an increase in cell cytotoxicity. Brief naturalistic stressors elicit a shift from Th1(cellular) to Th2(humoral) immunity, while decreased T-cell proliferation, and natural killer cell cytotoxicity. Stressful event sequences did not elicit a consistent immune response however, some observations such as decreased T-Cell proliferation and cytotoxicity, increase or decrease in natural killer cell cytotoxicity, and an increase in mitogen PHA. Chronic stress elicited a shift toward Th2 immunity, as well as decreased interleukin 2, T cell proliferation, and antibody response to the influenza vaccine. Distant stressors did not consistently elicit a change in immune function. [6]

    Infectious Edit

    Some studies have observed increased risk of upper respiratory tract infection during chronic life stress. In patients with HIV, increased life stress and cortisol was associated with poorer progression of HIV. [34]

    Chronic disease Edit

    A link has been suggested between chronic stress and cardiovascular disease. [34] Stress appears to play a role in hypertension, and may further predispose people to other conditions associated with hypertension. [38] Stress may also precipitate a more serious, or relapse into abuse of alcohol. [4] Stress may also contribute to aging and chronic diseases in aging, such as depression and metabolic disorders. [39]

    The immune system also plays a role in stress and the early stages of wound healing. It is responsible for preparing the tissue for repair and promoting recruitment of certain cells to the wound area. [36] Consistent with the fact that stress alters the production of cytokines, Graham et al. found that chronic stress associated with care giving for a person with Alzheimer's disease leads to delayed wound healing. Results indicated that biopsy wounds healed 25% more slowly in the chronically stressed group, or those caring for a person with Alzheimer's disease. [40]

    Development Edit

    Chronic stress has also been shown to impair developmental growth in children by lowering the pituitary gland's production of growth hormone, as in children associated with a home environment involving serious marital discord, alcoholism, or child abuse. [41]

    More generally, prenatal life, infancy, childhood, and adolescence are critical periods in which the vulnerability to stressors is particularly high. [42] [43]

    Psychopathology Edit

    Chronic stress is seen to affect the parts of the brain where memories are processed through and stored. When people feel stressed, stress hormones get over-secreted, which affects the brain. This secretion is made up of glucocorticoids, including cortisol, which are steroid hormones that the adrenal gland releases, although this can increase storage of flashbulb memories it decreases long-term potentiation (LTP). [44] [45] The hippocampus is important in the brain for storing certain kinds of memories and damage to the hippocampus can cause trouble in storing new memories but old memories, memories stored before the damage, are not lost. [46] Also high cortisol levels can be tied to the deterioration of the hippocampus and decline of memory that many older adults start to experience with age. [45] These mechanisms and processes may therefore contribute to age-related disease, or originate risk for earlier-onset disorders. For instance, extreme stress (e.g. trauma) is a requisite factor to produce stress-related disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder. [5]

    Chronic stress also shifts learning, forming a preference for habit based learning, and decreased task flexibility and spatial working memory, probably through alterations of the dopaminergic systems. [30] Stress may also increase reward associated with food, leading to weight gain and further changes in eating habits. [47] Stress may contribute to various disorders, such as fibromyalgia, [48] chronic fatigue syndrome, [49] depression, [50] and functional somatic syndromes. [51]

    Eustress Edit

    Selye published in year 1975 a model dividing stress into eustress and distress. [52] Where stress enhances function (physical or mental, such as through strength training or challenging work), it may be considered eustress. Persistent stress that is not resolved through coping or adaptation, deemed distress, may lead to anxiety or withdrawal (depression) behavior.

    The difference between experiences that result in eustress and those that result in distress is determined by the disparity between an experience (real or imagined) and personal expectations, and resources to cope with the stress. Alarming experiences, either real or imagined, can trigger a stress response. [53]

    Coping Edit

    Responses to stress include adaptation, psychological coping such as stress management, anxiety, and depression. Over the long term, distress can lead to diminished health and/or increased propensity to illness to avoid this, stress must be managed.

    Stress management encompasses techniques intended to equip a person with effective coping mechanisms for dealing with psychological stress, with stress defined as a person's physiological response to an internal or external stimulus that triggers the fight-or-flight response. Stress management is effective when a person uses strategies to cope with or alter stressful situations.

    There are several ways of coping with stress, [54] such as controlling the source of stress or learning to set limits and to say "no" to some of the demands that bosses or family members may make.

    A person's capacity to tolerate the source of stress may be increased by thinking about another topic such as a hobby, listening to music, or spending time in a wilderness.

    A way to control stress is first dealing with what is causing the stress if it is something the individual has control over. Other methods to control stress and reduce it can be: to not procrastinate and leave tasks for the last minute, do things you like, exercise, do breathing routines, go out with friends, and take a break. Having support from a loved one also helps a lot in reducing stress. [45]

    One study showed that the power of having support from a loved one, or just having social support, lowered stress in individual subjects. Painful shocks were applied to married women's ankles. In some trials women were able to hold their husband's hand, in other trials they held a stranger's hand, and then held no one's hand. When the women were holding their husband's hand, the response was reduced in many brain areas. When holding the stranger's hand the response was reduced a little, but not as much as when they were holding their husband's hand. Social support helps reduce stress and even more so if the support is from a loved one. [45]

    Cognitive appraisal Edit

    Lazarus [55] argued that, in order for a psychosocial situation to be stressful, it must be appraised as such. He argued that cognitive processes of appraisal are central in determining whether a situation is potentially threatening, constitutes a harm/loss or a challenge, or is benign.

    Both personal and environmental factors influence this primary appraisal, which then triggers the selection of coping processes. Problem-focused coping is directed at managing the problem, whereas emotion-focused coping processes are directed at managing the negative emotions. Secondary appraisal refers to the evaluation of the resources available to cope with the problem, and may alter the primary appraisal.

    In other words, primary appraisal includes the perception of how stressful the problem is and the secondary appraisal of estimating whether one has more than or less than adequate resources to deal with the problem that affects the overall appraisal of stressfulness. Further, coping is flexible in that, in general, the individual examines the effectiveness of the coping on the situation if it is not having the desired effect, s/he will, in general, try different strategies. [56]

    Health risk factors Edit

    Both negative and positive stressors can lead to stress. The intensity and duration of stress changes depending on the circumstances and emotional condition of the person suffering from it (Arnold. E and Boggs. K. 2007). Some common categories and examples of stressors include:

    • Sensory input such as pain, bright light, noise, temperatures, or environmental issues such as a lack of control over environmental circumstances, such as food, air and/or water quality, housing, health, freedom, or mobility.
    • Social issues can also cause stress, such as struggles with conspecific or difficult individuals and social defeat, or relationship conflict, deception, or break ups, and major events such as birth and deaths, marriage, and divorce.
    • Life experiences such as poverty, unemployment, clinical depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, heavy drinking, [57] or insufficient sleep can also cause stress. Students and workers may face performance pressure stress from exams and project deadlines.
    • Adverse experiences during development (e.g. prenatal exposure to maternal stress, [58][59] poor attachment histories, [60]sexual abuse) [61] are thought to contribute to deficits in the maturity of an individual's stress response systems. One evaluation of the different stresses in people's lives is the Holmes and Rahe stress scale.

    General adaptation syndrome Edit

    Physiologists define stress as how the body reacts to a stressor - a stimulus, real or imagined, that causes stress. Acute stressors affect an organism in the short term chronic stressors over the longer term. The general adaptation syndrome (GAS), developed by Hans Selye, is a profile of how organisms respond to stress GAS is characterized by three phases: a nonspecific mobilization phase, which promotes sympathetic nervous system activity a resistance phase, during which the organism makes efforts to cope with the threat and an exhaustion phase, which occurs if the organism fails to overcome the threat and depletes its physiological resources. [62]

    Stage 1 Edit

    Alarm is the first stage, which is divided into two phases: the shock phase and the antishock phase. [63]

    • Shock phase: During this phase, the body can endure changes such as hypovolemia, hypoosmolarity, hyponatremia, hypochloremia, hypoglycemia—the stressor effect. This phase resembles Addison's disease. The organism's resistance to the stressor drops temporarily below the normal range and some level of shock (e.g. circulatory shock) may be experienced.
    • Antishock phase: When the threat or stressor is identified or realized, the body starts to respond and is in a state of alarm. During this stage, the locus coeruleus and sympathetic nervous system activate the production of catecholamines including adrenaline, engaging the popularly-known fight-or-flight response. Adrenaline temporarily provides increased muscular tonus, increased blood pressure due to peripheral vasoconstriction and tachycardia, and increased glucose in blood. There is also some activation of the HPA axis, producing glucocorticoids (cortisol, aka the S-hormone or stress-hormone).

    Stage 2 Edit

    Resistance is the second stage. During this stage, increased secretion of glucocorticoids intensifies the body's systemic response. Glucocorticoids can increase the concentration of glucose, fat, and amino acid in blood. In high doses, one glucocorticoid, cortisol, begins to act similarly to a mineralocorticoid (aldosterone) and brings the body to a state similar to hyperaldosteronism. If the stressor persists, it becomes necessary to attempt some means of coping with the stress. The body attempts to respond to stressful stimuli, but after prolonged activation, the body's chemical resources will be gradually depleted, leading to the final stage.

    Stage 3 Edit

    The third stage could be either exhaustion or recovery:

    • Recovery stage follows when the system's compensation mechanisms have successfully overcome the stressor effect (or have completely eliminated the factor which caused the stress). The high glucose, fat and amino acid levels in blood prove useful for anabolic reactions, restoration of homeostasis and regeneration of cells.
    • Exhaustion is the alternative third stage in the GAS model. At this point, all of the body's resources are eventually depleted and the body is unable to maintain normal function. The initial autonomic nervous system symptoms may reappear (sweating, raised heart rate, etc.). If stage three is extended, long-term damage may result (prolonged vasoconstriction results in ischemia which in turn leads to cell necrosis), as the body's immune system becomes exhausted, and bodily functions become impaired, resulting in decompensation.

    The result can manifest itself in obvious illnesses, such as general trouble with the digestive system (e.g. occult bleeding, melena, constipation/obstipation), diabetes, or even cardiovascular problems (angina pectoris), along with clinical depression and other mental illnesses. [ citation needed ]

    The current usage of the word stress arose out of Hans Selye's 1930s experiments. He started to use the term to refer not just to the agent but to the state of the organism as it responded and adapted to the environment. His theories of a universal non-specific stress response attracted great interest and contention in academic physiology and he undertook extensive research programs and publication efforts. [64]

    While the work attracted continued support from advocates of psychosomatic medicine, many in experimental physiology concluded that his concepts were too vague and unmeasurable. During the 1950s, Selye turned away from the laboratory to promote his concept through popular books and lecture tours. He wrote for both non-academic physicians and, in an international bestseller entitled Stress of Life, for the general public.

    A broad biopsychosocial concept of stress and adaptation offered the promise of helping everyone achieve health and happiness by successfully responding to changing global challenges and the problems of modern civilization. Selye coined the term "eustress" for positive stress, by contrast to distress. He argued that all people have a natural urge and need to work for their own benefit, a message that found favor with industrialists and governments. [64] He also coined the term stressor to refer to the causative event or stimulus, as opposed to the resulting state of stress.

    Selye was in contact with the tobacco industry from 1958 and they were undeclared allies in litigation and the promotion of the concept of stress, clouding the link between smoking and cancer, and portraying smoking as a "diversion", or in Selye's concept a "deviation", from environmental stress. [65]

    From the late 1960s, academic psychologists started to adopt Selye's concept they sought to quantify "life stress" by scoring "significant life events", and a large amount of research was undertaken to examine links between stress and disease of all kinds. By the late 1970s, stress had become the medical area of greatest concern to the general population, and more basic research was called for to better address the issue. There was also renewed laboratory research into the neuroendocrine, molecular, and immunological bases of stress, conceived as a useful heuristic not necessarily tied to Selye's original hypotheses. The US military became a key center of stress research, attempting to understand and reduce combat neurosis and psychiatric casualties. [64]

    The psychiatric diagnosis post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was coined in the mid-1970s, in part through the efforts of anti-Vietnam War activists and the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, and Chaim F. Shatan. The condition was added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as posttraumatic stress disorder in 1980. [66] PTSD was considered a severe and ongoing emotional reaction to an extreme psychological trauma, and as such often associated with soldiers, police officers, and other emergency personnel. The stressor may involve threat to life (or viewing the actual death of someone else), serious physical injury, or threat to physical or psychological integrity. In some cases, it can also be from profound psychological and emotional trauma, apart from any actual physical harm or threat. Often, however, the two are combined.

    By the 1990s, "stress" had become an integral part of modern scientific understanding in all areas of physiology and human functioning, and one of the great metaphors of Western life. Focus grew on stress in certain settings, such as workplace stress, and stress management techniques were developed. The term also became a euphemism, a way of referring to problems and eliciting sympathy without being explicitly confessional, just "stressed out". It came to cover a huge range of phenomena from mild irritation to the kind of severe problems that might result in a real breakdown of health. In popular usage, almost any event or situation between these extremes could be described as stressful. [14] [64]

    The American Psychological Association's 2015 Stress In America Study [67] found that nationwide stress is on the rise and that the three leading sources of stress were "money", "family responsibility", and "work".


    A pheromone is a chemical released by an animal that affects the behavior or physiology of animals of the same species. Pheromonal signals can have profound effects on animals that inhale them, but pheromones apparently are not consciously perceived in the same way as other odors. There are several different types of pheromones, which are released in urine or as glandular secretions. Certain pheromones are attractants to potential mates, others are repellants to potential competitors of the same sex, and still others play roles in mother-infant attachment. Some pheromones can also influence the timing of puberty, modify reproductive cycles, and even prevent embryonic implantation. While the roles of pheromones in many nonhuman species are important, pheromones have become less important in human behavior over evolutionary time compared to their importance to organisms with more limited behavioral repertoires.

    The vomeronasal organ (VNO, or Jacobson’s organ) is a tubular, fluid-filled, olfactory organ present in many vertebrate animals that sits adjacent to the nasal cavity. It is very sensitive to pheromones and is connected to the nasal cavity by a duct. When molecules dissolve in the mucosa of the nasal cavity, they then enter the VNO where the pheromone molecules among them bind with specialized pheromone receptors. Upon exposure to pheromones from their own species or others, many animals, including cats, may display the flehmen response (shown in Figure 17.9), a curling of the upper lip that helps pheromone molecules enter the VNO.

    Pheromonal signals are sent, not to the main olfactory bulb, but to a different neural structure that projects directly to the amygdala (recall that the amygdala is a brain center important in emotional reactions, such as fear). The pheromonal signal then continues to areas of the hypothalamus that are key to reproductive physiology and behavior. While some scientists assert that the VNO is apparently functionally vestigial in humans, even though there is a similar structure located near human nasal cavities, others are researching it as a possible functional system that may, for example, contribute to synchronization of menstrual cycles in women living in close proximity.

    Figure 17.9.
    The flehmen response in this tiger results in the curling of the upper lip and helps airborne pheromone molecules enter the vomeronasal organ. (credit: modification of work by “chadh”/Flickr)

    Watch the video: The Sensory System (December 2021).