What is the difference between the words "stimulate," "simulate," and "emulate"?

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mkoren eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The words stimulate, simulate, and emulate sound similar. However, the meaning of these words is very different.

To stimulate means to try to encourage something to happen. The government may take various actions to stimulate the economy or to help the economy grow. A person may take a medication to encourage that person to eat more food or to stimulate his or her appetite.

To simulate is to try to create conditions similar to an actual situation. Pilots will spend many hours in a simulator to practice flying under conditions they will actually face when they are flying an airplane. A baseball player will simulate conditions he or she will face in an actual game against a pitcher by taking batting practice.

To emulate means to try to copy somebody’s behaviors or actions. A person who models his or her life after another person is emulating that individual. They are trying to be equal to or greater than the person whose behavior they are emulating.

thetall eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The term stimulate refers to the application of a stimuli on an object to encourage  a particular response. In biology the term stimulate refers to the response by sensory receptors to a stimuli. Certain drugs are known to stimulate the body into action through release of energy, for instance anabolic steroids are used to stimulate muscle growth and this is the reason it is abused by bodybuilders.

The term simulate refers to an imitation of an actual or real event. When astronauts are training before leaving for space. They are taken through a simulator that imitates the conditions in space such as zero gravity and no oxygen to enable them train as if they were already in space and acclimatize to the conditions.

The term emulate and simulate may be similar in meaning since they both refer to imitations. The major difference is that simulate works to only represent the original conditions while emulate is the trial to equal or excel the original. 

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Although these words sound alike (particularly stimulate and simulate) they are rather different in meaning.

To stimulate something is to encourage it to do something.  The government tries to stimulate growth through government spending, for example.  Or you can stimulate someone's interest in a given subject.  To simulate is to pretend something or to try to duplicate something in a way that is not actually real.  So, for example, airlines use computers and other mechanical devices to simulate flight so their pilots can practice in safety.  To emulate is to try to copy or match what someone else has done.  You can try to emulate the acts of a person you respect.  This is different than simulating those acts because you are actually doing them, not just pretending.

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