temporal vs spatial summation
May 20, 2024
Author : Alex

Normally, you might prefer to avoid mathematics and solving as mathematical equation-based assignment is considered a burden for the majority of students. The fear of mathematics leads you to pick streams that do not need solving mathematical problems. However, you can not run from this. We find math in accounting, chemistry, engineering, physics and even science. Science not only consists of technical terms but also has numbers to deal with it. Temporal vs spatial summation is one such concept where you will need to deal with mathematical equations not in numbers but in the form of neurons. 

Furthermore, the nervous system consists of neurons, which help stimulate and react. Certain biological terms need to be studied to understand the discussion on the differences between temporal and spatial summation. However, in the web blog, we will discuss and provide you with fundamental temporal and spatial summation knowledge. So, keep reading till the end to get precise information on temporal summation vs spatial summation. Let’s get started!

A Brief Overview of Summation In Biology

It is a feature that results from numerous discrete electric inputs that cross-synapse junction and axon hillock, presynaptic and postsynaptic neurons. Therefore, summation occurs in all multicellular organisms with a nervous system. Every single impulse is not enough to trigger the reaction. The summation of different electrical impulses across neuromuscular junctions collectively provokes a response or action potential. 

Moreover, the postsynaptic membrane needs to be depolarized before an action potential is generated across the axon hillock of the neuron. Depolarization takes place when the cell membrane voltage threshold becomes more positive on the outside than on the inside of the cell membrane. 

What are the Types Of Summation?

In biology, there are two types of summation. One is a spatial summation, and the other is a temporal summation. The difference between temporal vs spatial summation is the number of neurons involved. These types use IPSPs and EPSPs to provoke the action possibility at the postsynaptic neuron or axon hillock. 

1. Definition of Spatial Summation

Spatial summation involves encouraging the action potential in the synapses of a single neuron and getting it from the axon hillocks of multiple neurons. The postsynaptic neuron receives neurotransmitter signals from different presynaptic neurons, which send signals at the same time or provide repeated inputs. Furthermore, as the action potential arrives simultaneously, the resulting EPSPs will summate at the axon hillock as a huge compounded signal. 

2. Definition of Temporal Summation 

Before searching assignment samples for your biology assignment, look into the second type of summation: temporal summation. Temporal summation happens when different action potential signals fire down the axon hillock of a single neuron, which is further given by the neuron’s synapses. These impulses reach postsynaptic neurons one at a time and accumulate enough voltage to produce an adequate charge. Repeatedly arriving EPSPs combine sufficient positive charges to summate an action potential at the postsynaptic neuron’s axon hillock. 

Summation Mechanism of Temporal and Spatial

Inside the receiving neuron, tiny gates called ion channels are present. These gates can swing open or shut based on which exciting messenger molecule docks onto their receptors. As we discussed before, this opening and closing of gates generate postsynaptic potential, which comes in two flavours.

These are excitatory postsynaptic possibilities and inhibitory postsynaptic potentials. The excitatory postsynaptic potential improves the chances of the action potential. Meanwhile, inhibitory postsynaptic potential reduces the options of imitating the action potential.

Advantages of Temporal and Spatial summation

Difference Between Spatial And Temporal Summation

Temporal summation is sensory summation affecting the addition of a single stimulus over a short period of time. At the same time, spatial summation is a sensory summation that simultaneously stimulates numerous spatially separated neurons. It is the primary difference between temporal vs spatial summation. Let’s explore some other highlights of temporal and spatial summation. 

1. Presynaptic Neurons

Temporal summation happens when a single presynaptic neuron generates an action potential, while different presynaptic neurons initiate the action potential in spatial summation. 

2. Mechanism

In temporal summation, a presynaptic neuron develops a subthreshold voltage for a specific time frame. In spatial summation, different presynaptic neurons induce subthreshold. It is another potential difference between temporal summation and spatial summation. 

3. Efficiency

Efficiency is another component that differentiates temporal summation vs spatial summation. Temporal summation could be more efficient as it takes some time to activate the action potential. Meanwhile, spatial summation is a much more effective mechanism. 

Now you know and understand the key difference between both summations. Additionally, you understand the meaning of both types of summation. Now, let’s move forward and explore the process more precisely. 

Comparison List of Spatial and Temporal Summation

Here, we have precisely presented the difference between both summation in a tabular form. Check out each comparison basis with both the summation. It will provide you with a valuable asset while understanding the key differences between temporal vs spatial summation. 

Basis of Comparison

Temporal Summation

Spatial Summation

Integration Type

Over time

Across spatial locations


Short time intervals

Simultaneous inputs

Location of Integration

At postsynaptic neurons, over time

Postsynaptic neurons from various spatial


Stimulus Arrangement

Successive stimuli

Concurrent stimuli

Postsynaptic Response

Single stimulus accumulates

Multiple spatially distributed stimuli combine

Dependency on Timing

Depends on timing of successive stimuli

Independent of timing, it depends on spatial


Neural Impulse Generation

It can lead to the generation of a neural impulse

It can lead to the generation of neural


Influence on Frequency

Modulates signal frequency

Modulates signal strength and specificity

Associated with

Dynamic changes in neural activity

Integration of information from different

spatial regions

Role in Sensory Systems

Influences sensory perception

Contributes to coding spatial patterns in

sensory stimuli

Motor Control

It affects the coordination of muscle contractions

It affects the integration of inputs from different

muscle fibers

Relevance in Memory

Impacts short-term memory formation

Contributes to memory encoding and recall

Neuronal Excitability

Influences the excitability of neurons

Influences the excitability of neurons

Pattern Discrimination

More about the timing of stimuli

More about the spatial arrangement of stimuli

Dynamic Process

It interplay of incoming stimuli

Dynamic integration of spatially distributed


Example in Vision

Integration of successive light stimuli to perceive motion

Integration of inputs from different locations to

perceive shapes

Why Temporal and Spatial Summation Matters to Us?

Comprehending these processes is important for more than just scientists. Furthermore, understanding temporal summation vs spatial summation helps us understand how we experience the world and how our brains work. For example, temporal summation helps us react quickly to things like a sudden noise. Spatial summation helps us recognize patterns, like faces or words.

Think about when you're learning to ride a bike. You must combine timing and space, how fast to pedal, and where to steer to stay balanced. It's the same for our brains. They use timing and space to process information and respond to the world around us. 

Similarities between Spatial and Temporal Summation

While both types of summation have multiple mechanisms and imperative differences, there are some similarities between temporal vs spatial summation, as mentioned below. 

  1. Temporal and spatial summation mechanisms happen in the sensory neurons of the nervous system.
  2. Different stimuli are accountable for developing an action potential in one presynaptic system. 
  3. Every stimulus here is subthreshold and together forms a superthreshold through summation. 

It is Time To Conclude The Following!

Temporal summation is the vital mechanism in the nervous system where a single presynaptic neuron develops a superthreshold. It occurs over a long period of time and initiates the action possibility on postsynaptic neurons. Spatial summation is a different summation procedure. Here, multiple presynaptic neurons affect the threshold, which further provokes the action potential on the postsynaptic neuron. However, we understand that understanding these fundamentals takes a lot of work. If you still find learning summations daunting, look no further than My Assignment Services. 

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Hello! I have an interest for writing since my college days and hold a relevant experience of four years in academic writing. I’m passionate about words, grammar, punctuation and style and I’ve been known to engage in lengthy discussions about hyphens and compound modifiers as it actually interests me. People call me enthusiastic, optimistic and outgoing. I believe in helping the students with their lengthy assignments which is one of the reason I’ve been associated with My Assignment Services.


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