Biology X | Control and Coordination | What happens in Reflex Actions?

What happens in Reflex Actions?

‘Reflex’ is a word we use very commonly when we talk about some sudden action in response to something in the environment. We say ‘I jumped out of the way of the bus reflexly’, or ‘I pulled my hand back from the flame reflexly’, or ‘I was so hungry my mouth started watering reflexly’. What exactly do we mean? A common idea in all such examples is that we do something without thinking about it, or without feeling in control of our reactions. Yet these are situations where we are responding with some action to changes in our environment. How is control and coordination achieved in such situations?

Let us consider this further. Take one of our examples. Touching a flame is an urgent and dangerous situation for us, or in fact, for any animal! How would we respond to this? One seemingly simple way is to think consciously about the pain and the possibility of getting burnt, and therefore move our hand. An important question then is, how long will it take us to think all this? The answer depends on how we think. If

nerve impulses are sent around the way we have talked about earlier, then thinking is also likely to involve the creation of such impulses. Thinking is a complex activity, so it is bound to involve a complicated interaction of many nerve impulses from many neurons.

If this is the case, it is no surprise that the thinking tissue in our body consists of dense networks of intricately arranged neurons. It sits in the forward end of the skull, and receives signals from all over the body which it thinks about before responding to them. Obviously, in order to receive these signals, this thinking part of the brain in the skull must be connected to nerves coming from various parts of the body. Similarly, if this part of the brain is to instruct muscles to move, nerves must carry this signal back to different parts of the body. If all of this is to be done when we touch a hot object, it may take enough time for us to get burnt!

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Biology X | Control and Coordination | ANIMALS – NERVOUS SYSTEM


In animals, such control and coordination are provided by nervous and muscular tissues, which we have studied in Class IX. Touching a hot object is an urgent and dangerous situation for us. We need to detect it,

and respond to it. How do we detect that we are touching a hot object? All information from our environment is detected by the specialised tips of some nerve cells. These receptors are usually located in our sense organs, such as the inner ear, the nose, the tongue, and so on. So gustatory receptors will detect taste while olfactory receptors will detect smell.

This information, acquired at the end of the dendritic tip of a nerve cell [Fig. 7.1 (a)], sets off a chemical reaction that creates an electrical impulse. This impulse travels from the dendrite to the cell body, and then along the axon to its end. At the end of the axon, the electrical impulse sets off the release of some chemicals. These chemicals cross the gap, or synapse, and start a similar electrical impulse in a dendrite of the next neuron. This is a general scheme of how nervous impulses travel in the body. A similar synapse finally allows delivery of such impulses from neurons to other cells, such as muscles cells or gland [Fig. 7.1 (b)].


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