Coding for Stimulus Intensity

Because action potentials are all-or-none events, a stronger stimulus cannot produce an action potential of greater amplitude. The code for stimulus strength in the nervous system is not amplitude modulated (AM). When a greater stimulus strength is applied to a neuron, identical action potentials are produced more frequently (more are produced per second). Therefore, the code for stimulus strength in the nervous system is frequency modulated (FM). This concept is illustrated in figure 7.15.

When an entire collection of axons (in a nerve) is stimulated, different axons will be stimulated at different stimulus intensities. A weak stimulus will activate only those few axons with low thresholds, whereas stronger stimuli can activate axons with higher thresholds. As the intensity of stimulation increases, more and more axons will become activated. This process, called recruitment, represents another mechanism by which the nervous system can code for stimulus strength.

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