Differential Heart Rate Changes to Equally Intense White Noise and Tone


  • This work was supported by a PHS training grant HD00117 and research grant HD01490 from the National Institutes of Health and by a Research Scientist Award K5-21762 from the National Institute of Mental Health. Computer services were provided through NIH grant FR00249 to the Laboratory Computer Facility and an NSF grant administered by the University of Wisconsin Research Committee. The paper is based on a Master of Arts thesis submitted to the University of Wisconsin by the junior author.

Address requests for reprints to: Dr. Frances K. Graham, University Hospitals, Madison, Wisconsin 53706.


The psychophysiological literature has often ignored possible differences in the effects of white noise and tone stimulation. Twelve undergraduate Ss presented with 10 white noise and 12 Ss presented with 10 tone stimuli of 5-sec duration, uncontrolled, fast rise time, and equal SPL (85 dB re 0.0002 microbars) showed large differences in heart rate (HR) response. Noise elicited a diphasic response of marked acceleration followed by deceleration and tone a triphasic response of deceleration-acceleration-deceleration. The short-latency acceleration following noise habituated rapidly although some acceleration persisted throughout the 10 trials. With stimulus repetition, the response to tone showed lessened deceleration and an insignificant increase in long-latency acceleration. It was suggested that stimulus onset characteristics determine the short-latency HR response and steady-state characteristics the longer-latency phases. The relationship to fast and slow components of startle was discussed as well as possible mechanisms that may account for the differing effects of noise and tone.