Does exposure to startle impact voluntary reaching movements in individuals with severe-to-moderate stroke?

Marziye Rahimi, Zoe Swann, Claire F. Honeycutt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


When movements of individuals with stroke (iwS) are elicited by startling acoustic stimulus (SAS), reaching movements are faster, further, and directed away from the body. However, these startle-evoked movements also elicit task-inappropriate flexor activity, raising concerns that chronic exposure to startle might also induce heightened flexor activity during voluntarily elicited movement. The objective of this study is to evaluate the impact of startle exposure on voluntary movements during point-to-point reaching in individuals with moderate and severe stroke. We hypothesize that startle exposure will increase task-inappropriate activity in flexor muscles, which will be associated with worse voluntarily initiated reaching performance (e.g. decreased distance, displacement, and final accuracy). Eleven individuals with moderate-to-severe stroke (UEFM = 8–41/66 and MAS = 0–4/4) performed voluntary point-to-point reaching with 1/3 of trials elicited by an SAS. We used electromyography to measure activity in brachioradialis (BR), biceps (BIC), triceps lateral head (TRI), pectoralis (PEC), anterior deltoid (AD), and posterior deltoid (PD). Conversely to our hypothesis, exposure to startle did not increase abnormal flexion but rather antagonist activity in the elbow flexors and shoulder horizontal adductors decreased, suggesting that abnormal flexor/extensor co-contraction was reduced. This reduction of flexion led to increased reaching distance (18.2% farther), movement onset (8.6% faster), and final accuracy (16.1% more accurate) by the end of the session. This study offers the first evidence that exposure to startle in iwS does not negatively impact voluntary movement; moreover, exposure may improve volitionally activated reaching movements by decreasing abnormal flexion activity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)745-753
Number of pages9
JournalExperimental Brain Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2021


  • Abnormal flexor activity
  • Point-to-point reaching
  • Rehabilitation
  • Severe stroke
  • Startle

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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