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J Neurophysiol. 2013 Nov;110(9):2236-45. doi: 10.1152/jn.00766.2012. Epub 2013 Aug 14.

First trial and StartReact effects induced by balance perturbations to upright stance.

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School of Kinesiology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada; and.


Postural responses (PR) to a balance perturbation differ between the first and subsequent perturbations. One explanation for this first trial effect is that perturbations act as startling stimuli that initiate a generalized startle response (GSR) as well as the PR. Startling stimuli, such as startling acoustic stimuli (SAS), are known to elicit GSRs, as well as a StartReact effect, in which prepared movements are initiated earlier by a startling stimulus. In this study, a StartReact effect paradigm was used to determine if balance perturbations can also act as startle stimuli. Subjects completed two blocks of simple reaction time trials involving wrist extension to a visual imperative stimulus (IS). Each block included 15 CONTROL trials that involved a warning cue and subsequent IS, followed by 10 repeated TEST trials, where either a SAS (TESTSAS) or a toes-up support-surface rotation (TESTPERT) was presented coincident with the IS. StartReact effects were observed during the first trial in both TESTSAS and TESTPERT conditions as evidenced by significantly earlier wrist movement and muscle onsets compared with CONTROL. Likewise, StartReact effects were observed in all repeated TESTSAS and TESTPERT trials. In contrast, GSRs in sternocleidomastoid and PRs were large in the first trial, but significantly attenuated over repeated presentation of the TESTPERT trials. Results suggest that balance perturbations can act as startling stimuli. Thus first trial effects are likely PRs which are superimposed with a GSR that is initially large, but habituates over time with repeated exposure to the startling influence of the balance perturbation.


StartReact effect; first trial effect; postural responses; reaction time; startle

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