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Clin Neurophysiol. 2003 Sep;114(9):1557-79.

A review of the modulation of the startle reflex by affective states and its application in psychiatry.

Author information

  • 1National Institute of Mental Health, DHHS, Mood and Anxiety Disorders Program, 15K North Drive, Bldg 15K, MSC 2670, Bethesda, MD 20895, USA. christian.grillon@nih.gov



To provide an overview of startle reflex methodologies applied to the examination of emotional and motivational states in humans and to review the findings in different forms of psychopathology.


Pertinent articles were searched mostly via MEDLINE and PsycINFO.


The startle reflex is a non-invasive translational tool of research that bridges the gap between animal and human investigations. Startle is used to study fear and anxiety, affective disturbances, sensitization, motivational states, and homeostasis.


The startle reflex is highly sensitive to various factors that are of interest in the studies of emotional disorders and has promoted new areas of investigations in psychiatry. However, research in psychiatry is still in its infancy and most findings await replication. Future progress will benefit from the development of innovative and powerful designs tailored to investigate specific disorders.


The startle reflex has utility as a research tool to examine trauma-related disorders, fear learning, drug addiction, and to contrast affective states and emotional processing across diagnostic groups, but its usefulness as a diagnostic tool is limited.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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