Dictionary of Theories, Laws, and Concepts in Psychology

By Jon E. Roeckelein | Go to book overview

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NAFE’S VASCULAR THEORY OF CUTANEOUS SENSITIVITY. The sense of touch consists of several partly independent senses: pressure on the skin, warmth, cold, pain, vibration, movement across the skin, and stretch of the skin. These sensations (cutaneous senses) depend on several kinds of receptors in the skin (Iggo & Andres, 1982); the cutaneous senses are sometimes known by the broader term somatosensory system. Two hypotheses have been proposed for the thermal receptors (cf: Osgood’s, 1953, account and evaluation of thermal sensitivity theories: the gradient theory; Von Frey’s specific receptor theory; Nafe’s vascular theory; Jenkins’ concentration theory), although there is little or no direct evidence in support of either (Kenshalo, 1971). The specific terminal hypothesis assumes a molecular configuration or other specific feature of the terminal membrane that governs differential responsiveness to thermal and mechanical stimuli. The specific tissue hypothesis assumes that afferent nerves are essentially alike, but they end in nonneural tissues whose characteristics are responsible for the stimulus specificities observed in the activity of the associated axon. An example of this latter type of hypothesis is the vascular theory proposed by Nafe (1934) and reviewed by Kenshalo (1970), in which the smooth muscles of the cutaneous vascular system contract when cooled and relax when warmed. According to this approach, the movement of the vessels initiates activity in the afferent nerves that terminate in the vessel walls. Another current theory, the quantitative theory of cutaneous sensitivity (Kenshalo & Nafe, 1962), is representative of several of the so-called pattern theories of cutaneous sensory coding (cf: Uttal, 1973). This theory holds that the qualities of cutaneous sensation are partly a function of the mechanical and thermal properties of the tissue in which the sensory nerves terminate and partly a function of variations in the temporal and spatial patterns of neural discharge of those nerves. According to Schwartz (1978), the pattern theories of somatosensory coding will require a great deal of experimental validation. However, on the

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