Why It Matters: The Nervous System

Why describe the components and role of the nervous system?

When you’re reading this book, your nervous system is performing several functions simultaneously. The visual system is processing what is seen on the page; the motor system controls the turn of the pages (or click of the mouse); the prefrontal cortex maintains attention. Even fundamental functions, like breathing and regulation of body temperature, are controlled by the nervous system. A nervous system is an organism’s control center: it processes sensory information from outside (and inside) the body and controls all behaviors—from eating to sleeping to finding a mate.

Illustration shows a woman, upside-down with an arched back, going over a pole vault.

Figure 1. An athlete’s nervous system is hard at work during the planning and execution of a movement as precise as a high jump. Parts of the nervous system are involved in determining how hard to push off and when to turn, as well as controlling the muscles throughout the body that make this complicated movement possible without knocking the bar down—all in just a few seconds. (credit: modification of work by Shane T. McCoy, U.S. Navy)

Learning Outcomes

  • Identify the two primary parts of the nervous system and describe the function and structure of neurons and glial cells
  • Explain the way neurons communicate
  • Identify the components of the central nervous system
  • Identify the components of the peripheral nervous system
  • Describe the symptoms, potential causes, and treatment of several examples of nervous system disorders