Deutsch: Physiologische Reaktion / Español: Respuesta fisiológica / Português: Resposta fisiológica / Français: Réponse physiologique / Italiano: Risposta fisiologica

Physiological response in the context of psychology refers to the body's automatic reactions to stimuli, which can be internal or external. These responses are part of the body's way of maintaining homeostasis and include changes in heart rate, respiration, hormone levels, and other bodily functions. Physiological responses are closely linked to emotional and psychological states, playing a crucial role in how individuals experience and react to their environment.


In psychology, physiological response encompasses the automatic bodily reactions that occur in response to various stimuli. These responses are often involuntary and are mediated by the autonomic nervous system, which regulates functions such as heart rate, digestion, respiratory rate, pupillary response, and more. The autonomic nervous system is divided into the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, which work together to manage the body's reactions to stress and relaxation, respectively.

The sympathetic nervous system activates the "fight or flight" response during stressful situations, leading to increased heart rate, faster breathing, sweating, and a release of adrenaline. This response prepares the body to either confront or flee from a perceived threat. Conversely, the parasympathetic nervous system promotes the "rest and digest" response, calming the body down after the threat has passed by slowing the heart rate, decreasing respiration, and facilitating digestion.

Physiological responses are also critical in the study of emotions. The James-Lange theory, for example, posits that emotions arise from the perception of physiological changes. According to this theory, the body reacts to a stimulus, and the brain interprets these bodily changes as a specific emotion. For instance, feeling afraid might result from noticing an increased heart rate and rapid breathing.

Special Considerations

Understanding physiological responses is essential in various psychological fields, including clinical psychology, health psychology, and psychophysiology. It helps in diagnosing and treating conditions like anxiety disorders, where individuals experience heightened physiological arousal, and biofeedback therapy, which teaches individuals to control physiological processes to improve health and well-being.

Application Areas

  • Clinical Psychology: Monitoring physiological responses can help diagnose and treat anxiety, PTSD, and other stress-related disorders.
  • Health Psychology: Studying the impact of stress on physiological responses can inform interventions to promote better health and prevent disease.
  • Behavioral Medicine: Understanding physiological responses is crucial for managing chronic conditions like hypertension and heart disease.
  • Sports Psychology: Monitoring athletes' physiological responses can optimize performance and recovery.

Well-Known Examples

  • Fight or Flight Response: The body's acute stress response, preparing an individual to either confront or flee from a threat.
  • Rest and Digest Response: The body's relaxation response, promoting calmness and digestion after a stressor is no longer present.
  • Polygraph Testing: Measures physiological responses such as heart rate, respiration, and skin conductivity to assess truthfulness.
  • Biofeedback: A technique that teaches individuals to control physiological responses, such as heart rate and muscle tension, to improve health and performance.

Treatment and Risks

Interventions that address physiological responses include relaxation techniques, biofeedback, and mindfulness-based stress reduction. These treatments can help individuals manage stress and reduce the risk of chronic health issues associated with prolonged physiological arousal. However, if physiological responses are not managed, they can contribute to health problems like hypertension, heart disease, and anxiety disorders.

Symptoms, Therapy, and Healing

  • Symptoms: Common symptoms of heightened physiological response include increased heart rate, rapid breathing, sweating, and muscle tension.
  • Therapy: Techniques such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), biofeedback, and relaxation exercises can help manage and reduce unwanted physiological responses.
  • Healing: Effective management of physiological responses can lead to improved mental and physical health, reducing symptoms of stress and anxiety.

Similar Terms

  • Autonomic Nervous System
  • Stress Response
  • Homeostasis
  • Psychophysiology
  • Emotional Arousal


Physiological response in psychology refers to the body's automatic reactions to internal and external stimuli. These responses are crucial for maintaining homeostasis and are closely linked to emotional and psychological states. Understanding and managing physiological responses are essential in various psychological and medical fields, contributing to better mental and physical health outcomes.