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Keywords:

  • Startle reflex;
  • Prepulse inhibition;
  • Fear;
  • Anticipatory anxiety;
  • Attention;
  • Humans

Abstract

The effects of shock anticipation and attention to external stimuli on prepulse inhibition (PPI) were compared. In the threat-of-shock experiment, acoustic startle stimuli were presented with and without prepulses when aversive shocks were or were not anticipated. In the control experiment, startle and prepulse stimuli were delivered during periods with attended or ignored external stimuli. In the threat-of-shock experiment, startle was potentiated (fear-potentiated startle) and PPI was increased by shock anticipation. A gradual reduction in the overall PPI throughout the experiment was also found. In the control experiment, only PPI was increased in the attend condition. The PPI level remained constant throughout the experiment. The increase in PPI in the threat and attend conditions may have resulted from an increase in the general level of alertness that facilitated the processing of the prepulse. The gradual decrease in PPI in the threat experiment was hypothesized to result from a progressive deficit in sensory functioning due to the stressful nature of repeated shock anticipation.