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Fight or flight?

This photograph shows a lioness.
Though the threats that modern humans face are not large predators, the autonomic nervous system is adapted to this type of stimulus. The modern world presents stimuli that trigger the same response. (credit: Vernon Swanepoel)

Chapter objectives

After studying this chapter, you will be able to:

  • Describe the components of the autonomic nervous system
  • Differentiate between the structures of the sympathetic and parasympathetic divisions in the autonomic nervous system
  • Name the components of a visceral reflex specific to the autonomic division to which it belongs
  • Predict the response of a target effector to autonomic input on the basis of the released signaling molecule
  • Describe how the central nervous system coordinates and contributes to autonomic functions

The autonomic nervous system is often associated with the “fight-or-flight response,” which refers to the preparation of the body to either run away from a threat or to stand and fight in the face of that threat. To suggest what this means, consider the (very unlikely) situation of seeing a lioness hunting out on the savannah. Though this is not a common threat that humans deal with in the modern world, it represents the type of environment in which the human species thrived and adapted. The spread of humans around the world to the present state of the modern age occurred much more quickly than any species would adapt to environmental pressures such as predators. However, the reactions modern humans have in the modern world are based on these prehistoric situations. If your boss is walking down the hallway on Friday afternoon looking for “volunteers” to come in on the weekend, your response is the same as the prehistoric human seeing the lioness running across the savannah: fight or flight.

Most likely, your response to your boss—not to mention the lioness—would be flight. Run away! The autonomic system is responsible for the physiological response to make that possible, and hopefully successful. Adrenaline starts to flood your circulatory system. Your heart rate increases. Sweat glands become active. The bronchi of the lungs dilate to allow more air exchange. Pupils dilate to increase visual information. Blood pressure increases in general, and blood vessels dilate in skeletal muscles. Time to run. Similar physiological responses would occur in preparation for fighting off the threat.

This response should sound a bit familiar. The autonomic nervous system is tied into emotional responses as well, and the fight-or-flight response probably sounds like a panic attack. In the modern world, these sorts of reactions are associated with anxiety as much as with response to a threat. It is engrained in the nervous system to respond like this. In fact, the adaptations of the autonomic nervous system probably predate the human species and are likely to be common to all mammals, and perhaps shared by many animals. That lioness might herself be threatened in some other situation.

However, the autonomic nervous system is not just about responding to threats. Besides the fight-or-flight response, there are the responses referred to as “rest and digest.” If that lioness is successful in her hunting, then she is going to rest from the exertion. Her heart rate will slow. Breathing will return to normal. The digestive system has a big job to do. Much of the function of the autonomic system is based on the connections within an autonomic, or visceral, reflex.

Questions & Answers

thank you sooo much bro
Fatima Reply
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Sentamu
Fatima hw a u
Sentamu
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Shubham
any one elaborate fr me foramens of the skull and features which they transmit
Sentamu
icant undrestand plz
zahruuzh Reply
try to read I hop you will understand
state and explain 20 radiology uses
ILYAS Reply
what are chemicals in anatomy and physiology?
Mike Reply
what can I do to find it easy for me in anatomy and physiology course
Mike
study up on the basics of the periodic chart, learn bones and muscles attachments, and learn muscles. Those take the longest to memorize. After that it should be a little easier.
Toni
what are the two types of body cells
Jennifer Reply
what is malnutrition
Claire
malnutrition refers to faulty nutrition resulting from malabsorption,poor diet or overeating. Sometimes too these food do not contain all the six food nutrients in their right proportion.
Yakubu
thank you
Claire
welcome
Yakubu
Will u be malnourished?
Baigwa
gud
Budumari
What's the difference between radiology and radiology
gabriel
Nothing! Radiology it means the study or using of radiation in medical science it can be 1.diagnose or treatment diagnosed radiology! x- ray. ultrasound. ct-scan. mammogram. MRI. 2. treatmen- radiation oncology, like Cobalt 60. and nuclear medicine
Larry
what is X-ray?
Nissar
X-ray is type of light that make it possible to see inside any object. as human body
KUNDAN
How the nervous system develops
ayiesher Reply
From the cells at the back of an embryo
Mma
breifly explain anatomy of thorax
Hadiza Reply
How many region the rib is divided
Konneh
how many bon of human being
Nura
206
John
how to study for the skeletal system
ryaisha
and anatomy
ryaisha
I really need sources immediately
ryaisha
I printed out all the different bones. Put them in the see through protective sheaths and got dry erase markers. I could right on them and erase to help me learn to spell the names of markings and bones.
Toni
Or go to a book store, Barnes and Noble(doesn't have to be this) and they have coloring books for anatomy. $16. Really helpful.
Toni
okay thanks and are what study tools you use to study the materials and get a better understanding
ryaisha
*what are
ryaisha
hiii
Roopa
I prefer diagrams, pictures that lay out each step with the information in each step. For Example: how action potential creates muscles to move. A pictured diagram gives me a better understanding of how each piece plays a role in each step of the process.
Toni
Also for basics, such as memorizing vocab. Flash cards are great. Don't become discouraged if you don't get them all right the first times through. The more you go through them, your brain will remember pieces of information from each and help you to pull out the information 😉
Toni
okay thanks
ryaisha
what is the functions of the lips in human
Momboi Reply
could I say sensation?
Sovilace
kissing
Obrian
for protection
Omar
Lips assist in speech and eating
Cindy
Too many easy questions. Which bones are the axial and appendicular? What are the abbreviations for TEE, TTE, AED, A-Mode, B-Mode, and LTH? What is the difference between hypothalamus and thalamus? Where is the parathyroid located? How many True Ribs do we have?
Sovilace Reply
Transesophageal echocardiography Transthoracic Echocardiography automated external defibrillator brightnees mode Los Hermanos Taverna
Inam
what is anatomy
okello Reply
anatomy is scientific study of body structures and how they relate to each other
Skeater
Are there other functions of the nucleolus apart from synthesis of RNA and formation of ribosomes
Peninah Reply
plays a role in cell response to stress
airiz
what is angle of auscultation
Bryan Reply
Anatomy which is the study of the human body structure has a couple of reasons it is been studied It helps to discover genetic disease cytology And histology which is the study of tissues Physiology is the study of function of the human cells It helps to know how the different body part works Its helps to know how part of the brain works And lastly It gives the essential to understand more about anatomy
Stephen Reply
describe the external features of a spinal cord
okoche Reply
Spinal nerves emerge in pairs, one from each side of the spinal cord along its length. The cervical nerves form a plexus (a complex interwoven network of nerves—nerves converge and branch). The cervical enlargement is a widening in the upper part of the spinal cord (C 4–T 1). Nerves that extend in
Inam
Hormones regulate certain target cell responses. These can include which of the following?
Nazareth Reply
describe the external features of spinal cord
okoche

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Source:  OpenStax, Anatomy & Physiology. OpenStax CNX. Feb 04, 2016 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11496/1.8
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