In this blog, let’s explore every aspect of “Temporal vs Spatial Summation.” We will understand the temporal summation definition and spatial summation definition.

This is the perfect read for biology students who want to know the difference between temporal summation vs spatial summation.

Do you know your every muscle movement releases thousands of electric impulses to the brain? These impulses are passed on to the next one with delicate sodium and potassium balance utilizing the synapses between neurons.

This complex process of carrying information exactly to the corresponding order takes a fraction of a second. That’s really lightning!

The Central Nervous System (CNS) is the perfect combination of the brain and spinal cord. The remaining parts of the nervous system come under Peripheral Nervous System (PNS).

All this information exchange in the body happens in the form of electric signals via neurons. That makes body movement possible because of postsynaptic potential attenuates. Neurons continuously receive information from thousands of other neurons and pass it to the related ones.

The neurons which send the information are known as the Pre-Synaptic Cell. And the information receiving bodies are known as Post Synaptic neurons or receiving cells.

Before we explore the exact difference between spatial vs temporal summation, let’s explore “Action Potential.”

What Is An Action Potential

Our body has nerves that are connected with the brain or nervous system. It’s exactly similar to the electric wires connected to the switchboard. So, whenever you want to move any body part, it’s exactly the same as putting on the switches.

The brain immediately sends information to the particular body part, which moves through neurons’ electrical impulses. It’s similar to switching on the fan and sending the electric signals from the switchboard to the fan.

The electric signals or switch don’t order the fan to move. It just facilitates the electricity for the fan movement. Similarly, neurons don’t say hand to do the movements. It’s simply the electric impulse or information responsible for hand movement.

The sensory neurons or nerve cells consist of charged particles that move through action potential. And action potential is similar to electric potential.

Here electric potential is the total amount of work required to move positively charged ions from one point to another. And it is within the particular electric field.

In the same way, the action potential is the work required to move the single neuron to other neurons. All these charged particles move from one cell to another via the cell membranes of neurons. This neuromuscular junction is responsible for the travel of charged particles. That facilitates communication between ion channels.

According to physiology, an action potential is “The part of the process of neuron firing in which neutral membrane opens and allows positively charged ions inside and negatively charged ions outside.” 


Definition Of Synapse In Psychology

Definition Of Synapse In Psychology

It is the flow of information from one neuron to the target neuron via small gaps between two axons or dendrites.

The neurons communicate with each other through synaptic junctures.

Synapses are basically pathways for neural information exchange. Here the action triggers multiple presynaptic neurons to release neurotransmitters. Hundreds and thousands of synapses innervate the central nervous system, and PSPs are produced by each synapse. That further sums up to determine the behavior of post-synaptic neurons.

Understand The Process

  • A mosquito bites your hand and creates stimuli.
  • The brain or nervous system sends signals in the form of electric impulses. That lets you raise your hand and scratch the skin. (Response)
  • Stimuli: The signal or graded response is sent to the brain about the tickling of a mosquito. The signal sent by the brain to initiate the action in the response.

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What Is Summation? Spatial Summation vs Temporal Summation

What Is Summation? Spatial Summation vs Temporal Summation
Summation is the fundamental aspect of human physiology. The interaction between temporal and spatial summation plays an important role in determining body functions. It also triggers the neurons to respond.   

Let’s go through the key differences between spatial and temporal summation:


Temporal Summation Spatial Summation
It’s a sensory summation that involves adding a single stimulus for a short period. It involves the stimulation of various spatially separated neurons.
The single presynaptic neuron generates the action potential. The multiple presynaptic neurons generate the action potential.
The super threshold is generated by one   postsynaptic cell or neuron over a certain period of time. The multiple presynaptic neurons generate super threshold value.
It is a less efficient process because it takes time for action potential generation. It is an efficient process.


What Is A Temporal Summation

What Is A Temporal Summation

It is a summation in the nervous system where a single presynaptic neuron is involved in producing multiple stimuli or subthreshold over a period of time. After a certain period, the threshold potential is generated because of multiple simultaneous inputs or subthreshold.

So, at a certain point, these thresholds become sufficient to generate or fire action potential on the postsynaptic neuron. Here every threshold is generated by releasing the excitatory neurotransmitters to the synaptic gap. The presynaptic neuron does it.

Also, every single subthreshold is considered as the excitatory postsynaptic potential or EPSP. Although, an action potential is generated only when the sum of the subthreshold becomes equal to the superthreshold. Also, explore an interesting blog on who invented homework?

What Is A Spatial Summation

What Is A Spatial Summation

This is another type of summation in the nervous system. Here the threshold is generated by the multiple presynaptic neurons. Which are responsible for the generation of action potential on the postsynaptic neurons.

So, this is a type of simultaneous summation in which multiple EPSPs are responsible for generating an action potential.

In spatial summation, excitatory and inhibitory postsynaptic potentials are combined. That prevents generating an action potential on the postsynaptic neuron. This process is known as postsynaptic inhibition. You can even get the help with assignment on the Spatial Order.

Similarities Between Temporal And Spatial Summation

Similarities Between Temporal And Spatial Summation
  • Spatial and temporal summation are two types of summation processes. Both these processes happen in our nervous system.
  • Multiple stimuli are involved in creating an action potential in the postsynaptic neuron.
  • Every stimulus is subthreshold, which together sums up the super threshold.

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What Is Spatial Summation vs Temporal Summation 

Temporal summation occurs by adding up the single stimuli over a short period of time. While spatial summation is also known as sensory summation. Spatial summation occurs because the multiple spatially separated neurons are stimulated simultaneously. This is the major difference between temporal and spatial summation.

Presynaptic Neurons 

Presynaptic Neurons
A single presynaptic neuron generates the action potential in temporal summation. At the same time, multiple presynaptic neurons are responsible for generating action potential in spatial summation.


One presynaptic neuron continuously generates a subthreshold for a certain period in temporal summation. In comparison, multiple presynaptic neurons generate subthreshold in the spatial summation. This is another major difference between temporal and spatial summation.



Efficiency is another factor that differs in temporal and spatial summation. Temporal summation is a less efficient process. It also takes time to generate an action potential. However, spatial summation is an efficient mechanism.

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Algebraic Processing Of EPSPs And IPSPs

Algebraic Processing Of EPSPs And IPSPs

At any point in time, the neuron receives numerous EPSP and IPSP signals simultaneously. To determine the output or to know whether the threshold potential has reached the action potential the algebraic processing of EPSP and IPSP is taken.

These neurons receive numerous inputs either from multiple neurons as ni spatial summation. Or multiple inputs from a single neuron as in temporal summation.

The output depends upon each type of neurotransmitter. It can be excitatory neurotransmitters. Like glutamate that causes sodium ion influx through sodium ion channels. 

Or, it can be inhibitory neurotransmitters like GABA, which causes chloride ion influx. This synapse can be a decision point where an algebraic procession of EPSP and IPSP determines output.

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Axon Hillock

Axon Hillock
The part of the cell body of a neuron that connects with the axon is the axon hillock. It is a sparse distribution of the Nissl sub-substance. We can identify it with the help of light microscopy.

This axon hillock connects the axon and soma of the neuron. That’s why it is the final region of soma where summation membrane potentials from synaptic receptor channels occur. Then this summation is transmitted to the axon.

However, in the past, many believed that the axon hillock was the trigger zone for the action potential. It is now considered the initial segment between the initial unmyelinated axon segment and the axon hillock peak. Where action potential occurs.



Many times in the neurons, the excitatory postsynaptic membrane potential and inhibitory postsynaptic potentials are very close in the dendrite. This is known as shunting. You can see it in the dendrite tree given here.

The temporal summation will suggest these excitatory postsynaptic potentials and inhibitory postsynaptic potentials. That determines the resulting output, whether the threshold potential has been reached and action potential has started or not.

However, this sequence of events occurs in the soma cell, and the cell resistance is affected by the inhibitory input. The cell began to leak and create a shunt known as shunting inhibition. As opposed to getting rid of excitatory input’s effect.

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Temporal summation is the summation process in the nervous system, where a single presynaptic neuron generates a subthreshold. This happens over time and generates an action potential on the postsynaptic neuron.

While spatial summation is a different summation process. The multiple presynaptic neurons generate the subthreshold to generate an action potential on the postsynaptic neuron. The major difference between the two summation processes is the type of multiple stimuli involved.

School and college students often need to write a paper on temporal and spatial summation. We hope this article helps you understand both the summation processes. If you need complete help in paper writing, contact our experts.

Frequently Asked Questions

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There are some vital components while you deliver an impromptu speech. The following are some of them:

  • Present in simple words
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What is the difference between temporal and spatial summation Quizlet?

Temporal summation happens when a single pre-synaptic neuron fires repeatedly. That causes the post-synaptic neuron to reach its threshold for the action potential. While spatial summation happens when excitatory potentials from many different pre-synaptic neurons to postsynaptic neurons reach their threshold and fire.

What is the difference between temporal and spatial summation on a postsynaptic neuron?

Temporal summation is also known as sensory summation. Asit involves the addition of single stimuli over a short period, while spatial summation refers to the sensory summation that simultaneously stimulates several spatially separated neurons.


What is an example of spatial summation?

The mosquito bites you and sends the neuron signal to take action. Many excitatory inputs are sent to the neurons multiple times. When it reaches the threshold, we take action. Here the action will be we raise our hand and scratch it.

Is temporal or spatial summation more efficient?

Spatial summation is more efficient than temporal summation, as temporal summation takes more time to generate an action potential. Spatial summation is a consequence of simultaneous stimulation. On the other hand, in temporal summation, the stimulation occurs at a high frequency.

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