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What are the Different Functions of the Nervous System?

By Felicia Dye
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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The functions of the nervous system are too numerous to list in their entirety. This is because the nervous system plays a role in most things that occur in the body. Without it, humans would not have thoughts, much less thoughts that are superior to other animals. Furthermore, this system controls organs such as the heart and pancreas. The nervous system is also responsible for interpreting information from the senses and relaying messages in response.

To understand the functions of the nervous system, it is helpful to have a general idea of how it works. Put simply, there are nerves all over the body that connect to the spinal cord, and the spinal cord connects to the brain. Information travels through the nerves, up the spinal cord, and to the brain, where it is processed. The brain then sends signals, or prompts, along that same path, causing some type of action.

One of the most essential functions of the nervous system is to keep the other bodily systems operating. The nervous system can be considered a command and control center. In order for other systems to work, they need directions, which come from the brain and travel down the spinal cord. Without these directions, the heart, for example, would not know when or how to pump blood, and the muscles would not receive signals to contract so that a person could move.

Interpreting information derived from the senses is another of the major functions of the nervous system. Without it, the senses would be virtually useless. Consider, for example, the sense of feeling. Without the role that the central nervous system plays, a person may suffer from a wound but have no ability to interpret the feeling of pain as a need to seek medical attention.

Also consider the sense of smell and a person who is exposed to smoke in a burning building. Without the central nervous system, a person would not be able to identify the odor. There would also be no means for the brain to send signals that would motivate a person to abandon the location for safety.

Although other animals have nervous systems, they do not compare to that of humans. This can be seen by analyzing one of the functions of the nervous system that may be easily taken for granted—generating high levels of thought. It is because of the complexity of the human nervous system that humans are generally smarter and more capable than other animals.

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Discussion Comments
By kylee07drg — On Feb 09, 2013

@lighth0se33 – I never really think about the link between the muscular system and the nervous system, because it isn't a reaction to danger or pain. However, I have to have a thought in order to raise my hand or move my leg.

These thoughts happen so quickly and naturally that I don't usually consider the fact that there had to be an interaction between my nerves and my limbs for the movement to happen. I know it isn't involuntary, but it almost feels like it.

By seag47 — On Feb 08, 2013

I know that the nervous system and the respiratory system are connected. I feel this whenever I get out of breath.

This usually happens because I'm either nervous or hyperventilating. I tend to have panic attacks now and then, and they are brought on by things that rattle my nerves.

If I'm having a nervous day and my hands are shaking from anxiety, I know that hyperventilation is soon to follow. This makes me feel even more nervous and panicked.

I have to sit down, put my head down, and take deep breaths. This seems to help get both my breathing and my nerves back on track.

By OeKc05 — On Feb 08, 2013

I sometimes forget that there are several parts of the nervous system. I tend to think only of the nerves running all over my body instead of the spinal cord and the brain.

Of course, they all work together. The nerves would be useless without the brain and spinal cord, and these rely on the nerves for information.

The spinal cord is so important. If portions of it are damaged, then people can become paralyzed and lose all the use of the nerves in certain areas.

By lighth0se33 — On Feb 07, 2013

The structure and function of the nervous system are so diverse! I always just thought of reacting to pain or danger when I thought of the nervous system's function, but it is so much more involved. It prompts all the reactions in our own organs and systems that occur without us ever having to think of them.

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