• Event-related potentials;
  • Blink;
  • P300;
  • Startle;
  • Defense response;
  • Stimulus rise time;
  • Stimulus duration


Intense auditory stimuli of sudden onset evoke not only startle blinks but also an event-related potential component resembling classic P300, even when subjects have no assigned task. To more closely examine the relationship of this P300 to startle, event-related potentials and eyeblink were recorded from 16 young adults in three paradigms designed to produce wide variation in startle amplitude: an Habituation series of 30-ms, 105dBA white noise bursts, a Duration paradigm which presented 105dB noise bursts for 3, 10, 30, or 90 ms, and a Rise Time paradigm which varied the rise/fall times (3, 15, 30, and 45 ms) of 110dBA, 1000-Hz tone bursts. Subjects received two runs of each paradigm. Only on the final Duration and Rise Time runs were stimuli explicitly task relevant: on those runs subjects rated verbally, midway in each 8.4-s interstimulus interval, the disturbingness of the prior sound.

Although even the briefest noise bursts evoked parietal P300 as well as startle blink, P300 did not behave like startle, P300 habituated more slowly than did blink amplitude, was more responsive to sustained noise than were blink, N110, and P190, and most importantly, did not show the sensitivity to stimulus rise time manifested by these measures. These findings suggest that the amplitude of automatically elicited P300 is not governed by the same mechanisms as startle amplitude, but behaves more like a defense response.