How much control do we have over a gag reflex? Is it physical or mental?

  • Thread starter pa5tabear
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Main Question or Discussion Point

I was trying to drink a vegetable smoothie, which I really don't like, and I vomited twice in the process. My friend drinks it without issue. What's the difference here?

My conscious mind really wants to drink the smoothie, but a few gulps in I feel an uncontrollable gagging.

I'm curious how much this is mental vs. physical, or whether it's completely intertwined.
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
Ryan_m_b
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Most reflexes can be overcome with practice, including the gag reflex though as I don't have a problem with mine I've never had to get over it. Reflexes aren't "mental" in the sense that they (by definition) do not involve the brain itself. They are a product of a stimulus to the spinal cord initiating a motor response back at the same time as sensory information is sent to the brain. Overcoming them requires repition with conscious action to preemt and stop the reflex.
 
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I don’t suppose this is really a biological issue, I can only talk of my personal experience. Some years ago, because of acid reflux problems, I had the deeply unpleasant experience of undergoing a gastroscopy. The moment that thing touched my throat, it said, ‘I don’t know what that is, but get it the **** out of here’. The consultant kept telling me to just relax in increasingly impatient tones, but by the time it was over and I walked out, I looked as though I had been throttled. I trace my over-active gag reflex to that experience. Though everyone tells me that it is purely psychological, I find it impossible to fight. Now when I go for dental treatment, as soon as they start sticking various implements deep towards the back of my mouth, the urge to gag is over-powering and the more I fight it, the more the sense of panic grows. I did warn my dentist that I would be one of his more troublesome patients, and he takes it all very well, but it really is quite unpleasant for me.
 

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