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Autonomic nervous system

Definition:
Part of the peripheral nervous system that controls the automatic, involuntary and visceral functions (e.g. heart rate, digestion and perspiration) of the internal organs (heart, blood vessels, smooth muscles and glands).
 
Background:
The nervous system is made up of the peripheral and central nervous systems. The autonomic nervous system, which is a part of the peripheral nervous system, is involved in the physiological arousal experienced in emotional situations. Walter Cannon was one of the first psychologists to study the physical reactions (such as accelerated heart rate and breathing) in threatening situations. The autonomic nervous system is made up of the sympathetic and parasympathetic divisions. These divisions are involved in the mobilization and conservation of body resources respectively.
 
Further Reading:

Carlson, N. R. (1990). Physiology of Behavior. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Kalat, J. W. (1992). Biological Psychology. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Pinel, J. P.L. (1990). Biopsychology. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

 
Related Terms:
Homeostasis

Sympathetic division

Parasympathetic division

Self-Instructional Resources:
Take a 2-item self-test over this concept.

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