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reflex

a reflected action or movement; the sum total of any particular automatic response mediated by the nervous system. A reflex is built into the nervous system and does not need the intervention of conscious thought to take effect.

The KNEE JERK is an example of the simplest type of reflex. When the knee is tapped, the nerve that receives this stimulus sends an impulse to the spinal cord, where it is relayed to a motor nerve. This causes the quadriceps muscle at the front of the thigh to contract and jerk the leg up. This reflex, or simple reflex ARC, involves only two nerves and one synapse. The leg begins to jerk up while the brain is just becoming aware of the tap.

Other simple reflexes, the stretch reflexes, help the body maintain its balance. Every time a muscle is stretched, it reacts with a reflex impulse to contract. As a person reaches or leans, the skeletal muscles tense and tighten, tending to hold him and keep him from falling. Even in standing still, the stretch reflexes in the skeletal muscles make many tiny adjustments to keep the body erect.

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