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Abstract

This study used a prospective design to investigate startle reactivity following trauma exposure. Startle response was evaluated using loud tones during which measures of eyeblink electromyogram (EMG) and heart rate (HR) were collected. Participants were 40 female sexual or physical assault survivors assessed at 1 month and 6 months postassault. There were no significant differences in startle reactivity between posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and non-PTSD groups at the initial assessment. However, at 6 months postassault there was a significantly greater EMG and HR response in the PTSD group as well as a significant increase in startle reactivity from 1 month to 6 months postassault. The findings lend support to a sensitization model of trauma reactivity in which startle response develops over time along with PTSD symptoms.