Thermoreceptors: Definition & Function

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  • 0:00 Our Senses
  • 0:59 Thermoreceptors and…
  • 2:36 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: John Williams
Our senses are necessary for detecting changes in the environment. Temperature is an environmental factor that changes frequently, and our bodies have to be able to detect these changes. This article discusses thermoreceptors and their function in detecting temperature.

Our Senses

Our senses represent the physical ability to detect changes within our environment. These environmental changes can include sound, light, and temperature. These senses are available to us due to the presence of our sense organs, which are organs that assist with detecting environmental change. In these organs are specialized structures called receptors that detect various changes. For example, the photoreceptors in the eyes detect light, thus allowing us to see. Likewise, the nose contains chemoreceptors for the sense of smell.

The skin is the largest sense organ and can detect several types of environmental changes through the basic sense of touch. The sense of touch allows us to detect cutaneous sensations, or skin sensations. These cutaneous sensations include pressure, pain, and temperature. In this lesson, we'll discuss how the skin detects changes in temperature through the use of specialized receptors known as thermoreceptors.

Thermoreceptors and Temperature

Thermoreceptors are specialized nerve cells that are able to detect differences in temperature. Temperature is a relative measure of heat present in the environment. Thermoreceptors are able to detect heat and cold and are found throughout the skin in order to allow sensory reception throughout the body. The location and number of thermoreceptors will determine the sensitivity of the skin to temperature changes.

First, heat receptors are closer to the skin's surface, while cold receptors are found deeper in the dermis. This means that sensitivity to hot temperatures will be higher than lower temperatures based on the location. Additionally, different sections of the skin will have more receptors than others. The hand, for example, has more thermoreceptors than the thigh or shin, which means it will be more sensitive to temperature changes.

Thermoreceptors are important for the process of homeostasis, which is the tendency of the body to maintain a stable internal condition. Humans are warm-blooded, which means they must maintain a normal body temperature for survival. Therefore, humans must be able to adapt, or adjust, to temperature changes in the environment so that their internal temperatures are not affected.

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