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Reflex Action and Reflex Arc: What Happens When You Accidentally Touch a Hot Pot

Updated on December 21, 2015
Reflex action and reflex arc when a cook touched a hot pot by accident
Reflex action and reflex arc when a cook touched a hot pot by accident | Source

Reflex Action and Reflex Arc

Whenever part of your body comes close to an object that is capable of causing you harm, you tend to quickly withdraw that part of the body.

Reflex Action

If you were cooking and you accidentally touched a hot pot on your stove, you would involuntarily (and nearly instantaneously) snatch your hand away from the pot. This response is called a ‘reflex action'.

Reflex Arc

When you touch the hot pot, a response is created in the body. At the point of contact with the hot pot, skin receptors quickly send nerve impulses (electrical) to the spinal cord (central nervous system) via sensory neurons.

In the spinal cord, the nerve impulses move from sensory neurons to the interneurons (also known as relay neurons). The impulses are then sent to motor neurons that project out of the spinal cord to stimulate your muscles (effector) to contract, causing you to snatch your hand away from the hot pot. This is known as a ‘reflex arc’. This process happens so fast that the response occurs before the message reaches the brain or the message may not be sent to the brain at all.

Illustration of a reflex arc
Illustration of a reflex arc | Source

Components of a Reflex Arc

Stimulus: In the example above, the stimulus is the contact with the hot pot. This contact causes a nerve impulse that will travel to the spinal cord via the sensory neurons.

Sensory neurons: These neurons carry the nerve impulse to the spinal cord. Similar to the interneuron and motor neuron, sensory neurons receive incoming impulses at the dendrites. The impulses move away from the cell body along the axon to the synaptic terminal where the impulse is sent to the next interneuron with the help of a neurotransmitter (acetylcholine).

Interneurons: The interneuron is also known as relay neuron. These neurons are fully contained in the central nervous system. The interneuron serves as the connection between the sensory neurons and the motor neurons.

The synapse is a tiny space between two neurons. When an impulse gets to the end of one neuron and has to be sent down the next neuron, the synapse acts as a bridge. The signal arrives at the end of one neuron (close to the synapse) as an electrical signal, crosses the synapse as a chemical signal (with the help of a neurotransmitter known as acetylcholine released by the synaptic vesicles at the synaptic terminal) and continues as an electrical signal in the next neuron.

Motor neurons: These neurons send nerve impulses away from the central nervous system to effector organs or muscle fiber in our example above. This causes the muscle fiber to contract, resulting in you snatching your hand away from the hot pot.

Response: To respond to the stimulus of the reflex arc, the muscle needs to contract to pull the hand quickly away from the hot pot. For this to happen, the impulse travels to the synaptic terminal of the motor neuron. Synaptic vesicles at the synaptic terminal will then release acetylcholine which will cross the synapse and bind to the receptors on the muscle fibers to trigger the muscle contraction known as the ‘response’.

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      Simrat randhawa 2 years ago

      Awsome

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      vanshita 23 months ago

      if the stimulas is touching the hot vessel then what is the response?

      rply fast

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      R.Bala mounika 7 months ago

      This is the one of the best article for this topic

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      Marryam 4 months ago

      Really helped me in my assignment

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      Gagan Jain 3 months ago

      Really awesome

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      Pooja 3 months ago

      Thank u. It helped me.

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      Kobi 8 weeks ago

      This helped so much thank you heaps

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      Arjun 5 weeks ago

      Why do we detect pain much later even after removing our hand??

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      Edmund Custers 5 weeks ago

      Hi Arjun, thank you reading and leaving a comment. I'll try to answer your question. Pain that is still detected much later is most likely because there was significant damage done during the contact. In this case nerve fibers would still be sending messages to the brain from the location of the injury. The brain is kind of telling you to treat the affected area with care.

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      Yoram Tumwiine 5 weeks ago

      Helpful

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      Pankaj Kumar Thakur 3 weeks ago

      This is a very helpful

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