Both emotion and attention are known to influence the startle response. Stress influences emotion and attention, but the impact of stress on the human startle response remains unclear. We used an established physiological stressor, the Cold Pressor Test (CPT), to induce stress in a non-clinical human sample (24 student participants) in a within-subjects design. Autonomic (heart rate and skin conductance) and somatic (eye blink) responses to acoustic startle probes were measured during a pre-stress baseline, during a three minutes stress intervention, and during the subsequent recovery period. Startle skin conductance and heart rate responses were facilitated during stress. Compared to baseline, startle eye blink responses were not affected during the intervention but were diminished afterwards. These data describe a new and unique startle response pattern during stress: facilitation of autonomic stress responses but no such facilitation of somatic startle eye blink responses. The absence of an effect of stress on startle eye blink responsiveness may illustrate the importance of guaranteeing uninterrupted visual input during periods of stress. © 2012 Deuter et al.
Deuter, C. E., Kuehl, L. K., Blumenthal, T. D., Schulz, A., Oitzl, M. S., & Schachinger, H. (2012). Effects of Cold Pressor Stress on the Human Startle Response. PLoS ONE, 7(11). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0049866