orienting reflex

Orienting response

Orienting response, also called orienting reflex, is the reflex that causes an organism to respond immediately to a change in its environment. The phenomenon was first described by Russian physiologist Sechenov in the 1850s in his book Reflexes of the Brain, and the term was coined by Ivan Pavlov, who also referred to it as the "What is it?" reflex. The orienting response is a reaction to novelty. Later, in the 1950s, the orienting response was studied systematically by the Russian scientist Eugene Sokolov who documented the phenomenon called "habituation", referring to a gradual "familiarity effect" and reduction of the orienting response with repeated stimulus presentations.

When people see a bright flash or light or hear a sudden loud noise, they orient their attention to it even before they identify what is is. This orienting reflex seems to be present from birth. It is adaptive in helping people react quickly to events that call for immediate action.

This reflex can be controlled by the cortex, but more typically it is controlled by subcortical brain regions.

The "Orienting response" was noted in the 2007 book "The Assault on Reason" by former Vice President Al Gore. Gore relates to us how television is closely linked to the "orienting response" which is related closely to vicarious traumatization.

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