The Orienting Response

The Orienting Response
How Do Reflexes Take Control Of Your Mind?
Nature developed reflexes that operate below conscious levels to deal with unexpected events. Such surprises are a constant feature of life. Some of these threaten life itself. To cope with sudden threats, nature provided defensive reflexes. They activate motor processes faster than the slower conscious responses and compel the individual to act. The startle response is a typical protective reflex, which facilitates escape from sudden mishaps. If a fly approaches your eye, your hand zips up to swat it. The startle reflex begins to respond to a stimulus within 20 milliseconds. It is a reflex, which protects you all through your life.

The Orienting Response
How Does The Orienting Response Influence You?
New threats or opportunities do not appear suddenly enough in the environment to elicit the startle reflex. When the new state of affairs appears into view less urgently, it is the orienting response, which compels the mind to focus its attention on them. The mind already has defense systems, which enable withdrawal, escape, and attack. It also has appetitive systems, which promote survival, including sustenance, procreation, and nurturance.

Each of these defensive and appetitive systems trigger specific emotional strategies to achieve their objectives. The emotions have grades of intensity. The intensity of the emotions indexes the level of motivation. Depending on the intensity of the emotions, the orienting response directs attention to repetitions of the new situations. When strong emotions have been felt, the orienting response retains greater sensitivity to repetitions of the situations. Such persistence enables the mind to bring widespread regions of the brain to absorb the new situation and readjust its emotional strategies.

  • Many reflexes control your mind.
  • The orienting response influences your behavior.
  • The function of the orienting response.
  • The orienting response reinforces your purpose in life.
  • The role of gaze direction.
  • Gaze direction and the hippocampus.
  • The hippocampus reinforces memories.
  • Social comparison.

The Orienting Response
How Does The Orienting Response Function?
Scientists discovered that, when a bright flash of light or a sudden loud noise is encountered, an individual will pay attention to it even before identifying it. The orienting response is an organism's immediate reaction to change. Within seconds of the stimulus, the reflex causes the individual to direct his gaze towards the change. This response is present even in babies, who will turn their head toward any change in their surroundings. The orienting response prepares the system physically and mentally to adjust to the changing circumstance.

The orienting response sets off several activities. Changes occur in phasic and tonic skin conductance response (SCR), electroencephalogram (EEG), and heart rate, preparing the body for physical action. The hippocampus, anterior cingulate gyrus, and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex enable the mind to recirculate memories and assess the impact of the new state of affairs. With a repetition of the new event, the reactions of the system triggered by the orienting response reduce. Emotional involvement appears to reduce the reduction of the effect of the orienting response.

The Orienting Response
What Decides Your Purpose In Life?
Actually, it is their constitutions that enable individuals to succeed in particular fields. Movie stars and Olympic winners are born with exceptional abilities and skills. Unique individuals inherit special capabilities and aptitudes. Some are thrilled by the practice of music and others, by the study of history. Some are able to easily do something, which others find difficult. With experience, the nervous system reinforces the special aptitudes, which enable individuals to succeed. They discover a particular aim to be satisfying and fulfilling. They sense a purpose in lfe. The orienting response powerfully reinforces this process. The orienting response preferentially orients your gaze towards items, which satisfy your inherited purpose in life.

The Orienting Response
How Does The Orienting Response Reinforce Preferences?
The orienting response orients your gaze with a preference for items, which satisfy your inherited interests in life. Emotional overtones add power to this process. Attention to threatening objects deepen the emotions. Attractive objects become more desirable. Attention records intimate details of the object into your mind. This gaze bias is the cause of the preference and not its effect. This gaze can occur while the item is present.

If the item has been removed, your gaze becomes fixated at the point in which the item was present. Gaze directions provide a critical input, which distribute the absorbed information into your cortical regions. To enable this process, the orienting responses is known to activate the hippocampus, anterior cingulate gyrus, and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex. These regions enable the brain to recirculate memories and to evaluate the value of the preferential choice made possible by the orienting response.

The Orienting Response
Any Link Between Gaze Direction And The Hippocampus?
The hippocampus is an organ, which stores episodic memories of events, experiences and semantic concepts. Damage to the hippocampus causes a loss of the ability to acquire such memories. The hippocampus is known to enable an animal to find a path to a hidden goal, by providing a neural map of the spacial environment. The organ uses eye movement and head direction data as an inertial compass to chart geographic movement and position.

These eye and ear coordinates are mapped by head direction cells, grid cells, and border cells. Place cells are reported to indicate fairly accurately, the position of a rat in a cage. The orienting response causes gaze direction to be fixated on the object of attention. Fixation probably anchors the episode at the focus of attention in a precise time and space dimensioned memory space. When you stare into space, while trying to recall a memory, your subconscious gaze direction probably locates those episodic memories. The orienting response causes the memories to be reinforced.

The Orienting Response
How Does The Hippocampus Reinforce Memories?
The orienting response repeatedly draws attention to a changing situation. The hippocampus is known to recirculate memories over the immediate object of attention to the prefrontal regions for its persisting evaluation, creating a working memory. This activity protects the system from other distractions. If the mind had been engaged elsewhere, the implications of the change would be less well remembered. During sleep, in REM stages, the hippocampus replays the space and time context of these experiences. Over sleep/wake cycles over weeks and months, the organ spreads associative learning to extensive regions of the nervous system. The orienting response operates through the hippocampus to disseminate knowledge in wide cortical regions to reinforce the wisdom of an individual's purpose in life.

The Orienting Response
Does The Orienting Response Reinforce Social Comparison?
The orienting response is sensitive to altered circumstances. Differing social behaviors indicate alternative realities. The Social Comparison Theory was initially proposed by social psychologist Leon Festinger in 1954. The theory proposes that individuals have an internal drive to evaluate their own opinions and desires by comparing themselves to others. The orienting response supports this process by drawing attention when there are differences. The response will highlight realistic and achievable outside images, which differ from their own views and abilities. When comparison images diverge significantly from their own views and abilities, the orienting response will not be triggered. Since the orienting response triggers some discomfort, people will move into groups of similar opinions and abilities, while moving out of distressing groups. This process enables healthy comparison, without undue efforts to change themselves.

This page was last updated on 26 Feb 2020.


JUST THINK...   What happens when you begin to talk? Your nervous system has picked an emotion. It has articulated an idea around it, chosen apt words from a vocabulary of thousands of words, arranged them in lexical and grammatical order and adjusted the pitch of your voice. Before you speak you've no consciousness of the words you will use. Who's actually in charge?  This question leads to the question "What is consciousness itself?" Is consciousness a spirit living in a human body?  Is it a mystical life form that emerges from the nervous system?  This is the hard problem of consciousness. 


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