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Dev Psychobiol. 2010 Jan;52(1):78-89. doi: 10.1002/dev.20415.

The startle response: developmental effects and a paradigm for children and adults.

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Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, 3811 Ohara Street, Loeffler Building Office, 203, Pittsburgh, PA 15213, USA.


A film paradigm was developed to examine baseline and emotion modulated startle across a broad age range from preschool to adulthood. The paradigm was tested in children (3-, 5-, 7-, and 9-year-olds) and adults (total N = 122). The paradigm elicited a similar startle potentiation pattern across age groups; however, baseline startle changed with age: 3- and 5-year-olds showed lower response probability and magnitude of baseline startle than adults. Females exhibited larger baseline startle response probability and overall magnitude than did males; however, no sex by emotion modulated startle interaction was noted. Anxiety measures were obtained for all children. Individual differences in anxiety were associated with baseline startle magnitude among older but not younger children. No association of anxiety with startle potentiation was noted. Overall the film paradigm was applicable across a wide developmental span, revealing potential developmental and gender differences in baseline startle magnitude and response probability.

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