EXTERNAL AND INTERNAL STIMULI

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1 reflect Think for a moment about activities that require balance. Riding a bicycle and walking across a balance beam require great balance. So do most daily activities like bending over to pick up a book or stepping into the shower. If a person loses balance, he or she can fall off the bicycle or balance beam. The result can be disastrous. Maintaining balance in order to prevent injuries refers to a specifi c function of the body that is maintained by the nervous system. But the human body as a whole must maintain internal balance as well. If this balance is not maintained within certain limits, disease or death is possible. How does the body maintain internal balance? What sort of information does the body rely on? Homeostasis Homeostasis is the tendency of an organism to maintain a balanced state in order to maintain health and functioning. Many body functions work to maintain homeostasis. For example, the human body is most comfortable around 98.6 F. When the body becomes too cold, the muscles shake, or shiver. Shivering produces warmth that heats the body s core. When the body is too hot, such as when there is a fever, the body sweats in an effort to cool down. All organisms have ways of dealing with a changing environment. Anything that provokes a response in an organism is called a stimulus. A stimulus can be internal, or from within the organism itself. A stimulus can also be external, meaning it occurs outside the organism. Both internal and external stimuli can cause a response, or resulting reaction, in an organism. A response can be behavioral or biological. Behavioral responses typically involve physical movements or reactions. Think about what happens when someone touches a hot surface. The stimulus, a hot surface, is external. The typical response is to pull the hand away. This is a behavioral response. Biological responses typically occur inside the body. Now think about what happens when the body is infected with the fl u virus. The stimulus is the viral infection, which is internal. The fever that accompanies the fl u is the body s way of trying to kill the invading virus. This is a biological response. You ll learn more about these responses later in the lesson. Any response to a stimulus typically moves the organism back to homeostasis in order to maintain a balanced, stable condition that favors survival. 1

2 What happens if homeostasis is not maintained? Imagine the body s response to strenuous exercise. The body heats up. Sweat is produced in order to cool the body down. The sweating causes the body to lose a lot of water and possibly reach a state of dehydration. Without fresh water to replenish the water lost through sweating, the body may not function properly. In severe cases, dehydration can lead to death. Homeostasis is necessary for survival. Plant Responses to External Stimuli Most plants are rooted in place. However, they can still respond to external stimuli in a variety of ways that promote survival. One type of behavioral response in plants is tropism, a directed growth or movement in response to a stimulus. Tropism can be positive tropism towards the stimulus. Tropism can also be negative tropism, a directed growth or movement away from the stimulus. Be sure to drink lots of water during exercise! Plants may respond to the following external stimuli: Light: Plants rely on photosynthesis to convert light energy into chemical energy. Plants often grow towards a light source. This behavioral response is called positive phototropism. Some plants actually move to follow the Sun as it travels through the sky each day. The turning response to follow the sun is called heliotropism. This allows the plant to maximize its exposure to light energy. Gravity: Gravitropism is the growth of a plant in a particular direction in response to gravity. Roots grow downward in response to gravity. This is an important behavior that helps plants grow roots into the soil where they can soak up water and nutrients needed for the plant to survive. Touch: Plants respond to touch through thigmotropism. Plants exhibit thigmotropism when they change their growth to bend around an object or grow up a wall or tree. Many types of vine plants like ivy exhibit thigmotropism. look out! Plants respond to touch by changing their growth patterns. However, plants do not have a nervous system like animals. Instead, they coordinate their behavioral responses using plant hormones that travel inside the plant. 2

3 what do you think? Look at the images below. Which type of behavioral response is best illustrated in each image? look out! Plants respond to touch by changing their growth patterns. However, plants do not have a nervous system like animals. Instead, they coordinate their behavioral responses using plant hormones that travel inside the plant. Animal Responses to External Stimuli Unlike plants, animals are usually free to move throughout their environment. Movement gives them access to food. It also exposes them to dangers, such as predators. Animals must react to changes in their external environment in order to survive. If a reaction is immediate and involuntary, the response is called a refl ex reaction. Blinking the eyes in response to sunlight is an example of a reflex reaction. Reaction to an external stimulus requires sensing the stimulus. The fi ve senses (hearing, sight, taste, smell, and touch) are used to detect the stimulus. The nervous system processes the information coming in from the senses and helps drive the responding behavior. 3

4 External stimuli that animals respond to include: Light: Animals respond to changes in daylight. Some animals are nocturnal, meaning they are awake at night and sleep during the day. This is particularly helpful for animals that live in hot deserts. These animals hunt at night when temperatures are cooler. Other animals become active at sunrise, like roosters who crow when the Sun comes up in the morning. Behaviors that follow a daily cycle are called circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms are often triggered by the daily changes in sunlight. Temperature: Animals require certain temperature ranges in order to survive. Some animals survive best in the hot desert, while others need a cold environment. Some animals migrate to warmer areas in the winter in response to changing seasonal temperatures. Danger: Animal responses often rely on more than one sense at a time. Animals can sense danger, such as a predator, by seeing it, smelling it, or touching something it recognizes as dangerous. If the animal thinks it is in danger, an important behavioral response is the fi ght or fl ight response. The animal will either run away (fl ight) or become aggressive towards the danger (fight) in order to survive. The fi ght or fl ight response relies on sensory information that is processed by the nervous system, as well as hormones from the endocrine system that drive the behavioral response. Penguins have a thick layer of fat to help them live in cold environments. Looking to the Future: Virtual Reality Animals, including humans, rely on visual information to interact with the world around them. Virtual reality games create fi ctional visual worlds in which players are immersed in a game or experience. But virtual reality is not just for games. Doctors use virtual reality to create safe, simulated environments. They expose patients to situations or objects that create fear or anxiety in order to teach patients how to manage their fears in the real world. As this technology becomes more available, it may be used more widely to treat patients with memory loss, physical impairments such as limited movement of the limbs caused by brain damage, and even eating disorders. 4

5 Plant Responses to Internal Stimuli All organisms have internal communication pathways to help them maintain homeostasis. Plants need water and nutrients to grow. If water is lacking, the plant may wilt in response. If nutrients are missing from the plant s environment, its growth might be stunted. These are examples of biological responses. As with responses to external stimuli, plants rely on hormones to send signals within the plant in order to respond to internal stimuli. For example, some hormones signal a plant to expand its root system in response to lack of water or nutrients. Animal Responses to Internal Stimuli Internal stimuli cause responses to protect an animal and maintain homeostasis. Thirst and hunger are biological responses to lack of water and food. Some responses to internal stimuli protect the animal from serious illness. When contaminated food is ingested, an animal will vomit to remove the food from the body. If a pathogen, such as a virus, infects the body, Fever helps the body protect itself against pathogens. Plants may wilt in response to lack of water. pathogen: a diseasecausing agent such as bacteria, fungus, or a virus the organism may raise its core body temperature through fever. The fever helps the body inactivate the invading virus. A fever is a biological response to chemicals released inside the body triggered by the invading pathogen. what do you think? The human body s temperature fl uctuates throughout the day. These fl uctuations are typically within the normal range and do not upset homeostasis. What activities do you think change body temperature within the normal range? Other than infections, what factors or activities might change body temperature outside of the normal range? 5

6 What do you know? The chart below lists examples of plants and animals exposed to various stimuli. For each stimulus, fi nd the best matching response in the box below the chart. Write the response in the column next to its matching stimulus. Then, in the same column, write whether the stimulus is internal or external. Write whether the response is behavioral or biological. Stimulus In an area where monarch butterfl ies live, temperatures get cold and food becomes hard to fi nd. One side of a plant is exposed to sunlight and the other side of the plant does not receive sunlight. A rabbit sees and hears a predator in the bushes nearby. A dog eats a piece of food that is contaminated with a poisonous substance. Matching Response Responses The organism responds with flight. The organism responds with phototropism. The organism responds by migrating. The organism responds by vomiting. 6

7 connecting with your child Understanding Gravitropism Gravitropism is a plant s response to gravity. Gravitropism is a slow response that students cannot observe in one sitting. As a result, it is sometimes a difficult concept to grasp. One way to observe gravitropism is by changing a plant s normal environment and observing the results. For this activity, you will need two kitchen sponges, a small bean plant, string, scissors, a tray or small bowl, water, and a spray bottle. If a bean plant is not available, plan ahead and purchase some bean seeds. Plant a few seeds in some soil (one seed per pot), place them in a sunny location, and water them for a few days until at least one of the seed sprouts. As you carry out the activity, you may wish to discuss the following questions with your child: Before the activity: How do you think the plant will respond to growing upside down? After the activity: Was the plant only responding to gravity, or was it also responding to other stimuli? Was the stimulus (or stimuli) external or internal? How is the plant s response related to homeostasis? Help your child pour water over the sponges until they are saturated, but not dripping wet. Gently remove the plant from its container and brush off as much soil as possible without damaging the root system. Place the roots between the two sponges, forming a root sandwich. Gently tie t he sponges together with the string. Be sure to tie along the width and length of the sponges. Next, hang the plant upside down in a sunny window using a tray or small bowl underneath to catch any water droplets that fall from the sponge. Check on the plant each day, and spray the sponge with water as needed to prevent it (and the plant) from drying out. After a few days, the plant should change its growth direction and curve to grow upward. This is an exhibition of gravitropism. 7

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