Evidence for startle as a measurable behavioral indicator of motor learning

Nathan J. Kirkpatrick, Vengateswaran J. Ravichandran, Eric J. Perreault, Sydney Schaefer, Claire Honeycutt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


The ability of the classic startle reflex to evoke voluntarily prepared movement involuntarily has captured the attention of neuroscientists for its wide-ranging functional utility and potential uses in patient populations. To date, there is only one documented task resistant to the startReact phenomenon–index finger abduction. Previous reports have suggested the lack of startReact is due to different neural mechanisms driving individuated finger movement and more proximal joint control (e.g. elbow, wrist movement). However, an alternative hypothesis exists. Though not particularly difficult to execute, isolated index finger abduction is rarely performed during activities of daily living and is not a natural correlate to common individuated finger tasks. We propose that startReact can be evoked during individuated finger movements but only during tasks that are highly trained or familiar. The objective of this study was to determine the impact of a 2-week training regimen on the ability to elicit startReact. We found evidence in support of our hypothesis that following training, individuated movements of the hands (specifically index finger abduction) become susceptible to startReact. This is significant not only because it indicates that individuated finger movements are in fact amenable to startReact, but also that startle has differential response characteristics in novel tasks compared to highly trained tasks suggesting that startle is a measurable behavioral indicator of motor learning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0195689
JournalPloS one
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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