A history of the concept of the stimulus and the role it played in the neurosciences

J Hist Neurosci. 2008;17(4):405-32. doi: 10.1080/09647040701296861.


The term stimulus, as it was used in science from its earliest appearance in the sixteenth century up to the beginning of the nineteenth century, shows a gradual progress in denotation from the physical object designed to produce nervous and muscular excitation to the generically conceived event or object that initiates sensory or motor activity. To this shift corresponds a shift in the understanding of sensory experience. Johannes Muller's law of specific energy of sensory nerves played a major role in the shift, and Hermann von Helmholtz gave the shift its most thorough philosophical explanation.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • History, 16th Century
  • History, 17th Century
  • History, 18th Century
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • Neurosciences / history*
  • Perception
  • Philosophy / history
  • Sensation
  • Terminology as Topic
  • Vision, Ocular