Behavior Response to Stimulus
by Ron Kurtus (revised 14 December 2011)
Behavior is often defined as the response to a stimulus. In other words, what a person, animal, plant, or organism does after being stimulated is part of its behavior.
In order to cause that response, the stimulus must be sensed, processed, and interpreted by the person, animal, plant, or organism.
Questions you may have include:
- How do organisms sense a stimulus?
- How are signals interpreted?
- What types of responses are possible?
This lesson will answer those questions.
Senses detect energy
Living objects have sensors (or senses) that detect forms of energy from the world around them and converts the energy into a signal. Human senses include the sense of sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch, as well as several others.
(See Using Your Senses for a more comprehensive discussion of this subject.)
The signal from a sensor may be quite simple or very complex, as in the case of information on images detected by the eye.
The organism then processes or interprets the signal from the sensor, resulting in a response or being ignored as not important. The signal is may be processed near the sensor, in the brain, or in an area in between. Obviously, plants and lower level animals don't have brains.
Processed before brain
For example, the skin can detect heat. If the heat is interpreted as dangerously high, the person will jerk away from the source of heat. The signal does not have to reach the brain for the interpretation to cause the response in this situation.
Processed in brain
On the other hand, the nose of a dog senses the odor from a treat being offered. The signal reaches the brain which interprets the smell as something good to eat. The dog then responds by salivating and perhaps begging for the treat. This response is its behavior to the stimulus.
On a more complex level, a person may hear a song on the radio. The song is sensed and processed, and its words interpreted for their meaning. This is going well beyond responding to a loud noise. The words and melody are presented as complex information, and their interpretation can result in an emotional response or behavior.
Types of response
The response to a stimulus can be positive, negative, or ignored as not important. A positive reaction is that the being wants more or is attracted to the stimulus. A negative reaction is that the being wants to avoid the stimulus.
Examples of positive responses or behavior include:
- A plant grows toward sunlight
- Your cat purrs when in a comfortable bed
- A person laughs after hearing a funny joke
Examples of negative responses or behavior include:
- The roots of a plant avoid a piece of copper in the ground
- Your dog hides when you want to give her a bath
- You make a face after smelling a sour odor
Examples of responding to a stimulus by deciding to ignore it:
- A dog pays no attention to sounds from the television
- Your child ignores your order to clean up his room
- You pay no attention to slight changes in the room's temperature
A stimulus is energy and information that is sensed, processed and interpreting by an organism, such that it elicits a response. The response may be positive, negative or ignored, and it is defined as the behavior of the organism in this particular situation.
Stimulate your brain with positive information
Resources and references
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