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11.48: Touch

Difficulty Level: At Grade Created by: CK-12
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What if you felt no pain?

It might sound good to you to have a condition where you feel no pain. But actually this type of condition would be very dangerous. What would happen if you strained your back but felt no pain? Instead of resting your back, you might injure it further.


When you look at the prickly cactus in Figure below, does the word "ouch" come to mind? Touching the cactus would be painful. Touch is the sense of pain, pressure, or temperature. Touch depends on sensory neurons, or nerve cells, in the skin. The skin on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, and face has the most sensory neurons and is especially sensitive to touch. The tongue and lips are very sensitive to touch as well. Neurons that sense pain are also found inside the body in muscles, joints, and organs. If you have a stomach ache or pain from a sprained ankle, it’s because of these sensory neurons found inside of your body.

The spines on this cactus are like needles; they help keep away animals that might want to eat the cactus.

The following example shows how messages about touch travel from sensory neurons to the brain, as well as how the brain responds to the messages. Suppose you wanted to test the temperature of the water in a lake before jumping in. You might stick one bare foot in the water. Neurons in the skin on your foot would sense the temperature of the water and send a message about it to your central nervous system. The frontal lobe of the cerebrum would process the information. It might decide that the water is really cold and send a message to your muscles to pull your foot out of the water.

In some cases, messages about pain or temperature don’t travel all the way to and from the brain. Instead, they travel only as far as the spinal cord, and the spinal cord responds to the messages by giving orders to the muscles. This allows you to respond to pain more quickly. When messages avoid the brain in this way, it forms a reflex arc, like the one shown below in Figure below.

Reflex Arc: When a reflex hammer taps your knee, you may immediately kick your leg—without even thinking about it. The nerve impulse from your knee travels to the spinal cord, and the spinal cord sends a message to your muscles to kick your leg.


  • neurons: Nerve cells.
  • reflex arc: The movement of a sensory message to the spinal cord, where it transmits a response to the muscle without involving the brain.
  • touch: The sense of pain, pressure, or temperature.


  • Sensory neurons in the skin sense pain, pressure, and temperature.
  • When sensory messages only travel as far as the spinal cord, and skip the brain, this is called a reflex arc.


Use the resources below to answer the questions that follow.

  1. Where do we have touch sensors?
  2. How do they communicate with the brain?
  1. Where is the sensory cortex located?
  2. What are the "end bulbs of Krause" believed to sense?
  3. What do Merkel's disks respond to?
  4. What sensors are located in the dermis?


  1. Imagine you touch a smooth stone. How is this sensation transmitted to your brain?
  2. How and why do reflex arcs occur?

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Nerve cells.

reflex arc

Movement of a sensory message to the spinal cord, where it transmits a response to the muscle without involving the brain.


Sense of pain, pressure, or temperature.

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Difficulty Level:
At Grade

Concept Nodes:

7 , 8
Date Created:
Nov 29, 2012
Last Modified:
Aug 30, 2016
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