Bodily Changes in Pain, Hunger, Fear and Rage: An Account of Recent Researches into the Function of Emotional Excitement

Bodily Changes Pain Hunger Fear and RageBodily Changes in Pain, Hunger, Fear and Rage’ is authored by Walter Bradford Cannon, an American physician-scientist and physiologist, chairman (1906-1942) of the Department of Physiology at Harvard Medical School, who introduced, developed and popularized three ideas and concepts that are well known and widely accepted: homeostasis, fight-or-flight responses, and the sympathoadrenal system.

Early in his career, Cannon noticed that the adrenal medulla function is linked to the sympathetic nervous system and many physiological changes associated with emotional arousal. This includes dilation of the pupils, fast pulse, piloerection, and inhibition of gastrointestinal function, all signs of an increased sympathetic nervous system activity.

In 1909, Cannon noted the marked sensitivity of the stomach and intestines to psychological stimuli. In 1911, he also observed that a cat, placed in a holder, and frightened, released detectable amounts of “adrenalin”, and concluded that the general nature of the cat’s responses when frightened were “all signs of nervous discharges along sympathetic paths”. Later, in 1914, Cannon proposed the ‘emergency function’ theory of the adrenal-medulla function.

Thus, in 1915, in his renowned book Bodily Changes in Pain, Hunger, Fear and Rage: An Account of Recent Researches into the Function of Emotional Excitement, he coined the term ‘fight-or-flight’ response, describing the animal’s response to threats.

Bodily Changes Pain Hunger Fear Rage OriginalAs per Cannon, at large, animals react to threats with a general activation of the sympathetic nervous system, priming the animal for fighting or fleeing, and that “it is the sympathetic division of the autonomic system which is the primary agency in mobilizing the bodily forces in times of great fear or rage”.

This served as a basis for his concepts of homeostasis. In fact, Cannon invented the word homeostasis. By this term he referred to the stability of the inner world. The concept of homeostasis therefore was a direct extension from Claude Bernard’s idea of the milieu intérieur, and Cannon popularized it in his book ‘The Wisdom of the Body’ in 1932.

Cannon presented four tentative propositions to describe the general features of homeostasis: Constancy in an open system, such as our bodies represent, requires mechanisms that act to maintain this constancy.

Steady-state conditions require that any tendency toward change automatically meets with factors that resist change. The regulating system that determines the homeostatic state consists of a number of cooperating mechanisms acting simultaneously or successively. And, homeostasis does not occur by chance, but is the result of organized self-government.

Paperback: 326 pages; Publisher: Martino Fine Books (December 7, 2016). ‘Bodily Changes in Pain, Hunger, Fear and Rage’ is the 2016 Reprint of the 1925 Edition, and represents a full facsimile of the original edition, not reproduced with Optical Recognition Software.

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