My work involves using the startle reflex to look at central nervous system function. The startle reflex is an easy and noninvasive measure of CNS activity, and we assess this activity by measuring the electrical activity of the muscle that causes the eye to blink. This muscle activity is driven directly by a set of neurons in the brainstem and is affected by a number of different factors, such as stimulus parameters (physical properties of the stimulus, which sensory system is stimulated, interactions between sensory systems), subject parameters (extraversion, anxiety), and situation parameters (social encounter, directed attention). Two nice things about this startle reflex are: 1) the fact that we can easily measure CNS activity without breaking the skin, and 2) the fact that this reflex is so sensitive to a wide variety of factors. This makes the startle reflex a useful probe or measurement tool for those factors.
Recent projects include using the startle response and its modification by other stimuli to evaluate a variety of issues in several areas of psychology. These include looking at differences in automatic processing of stimuli during periods of directed attention versus relaxation; evaluating simple stimulus processing during anticipation of a social encounter, in people with either high or low trait anxiety; measuring differences in information processing in people who consider themselves to be either “morning” or “evening” people, when evaluated at either their peak time or their off-peak time; measuring fundamental information processing properties based on signal-to-noise ratio and stimulus intensity. We also collaborate with labs at other Universities, and these projects currently involve using startle responding as an assessment of information processing abilities in schizophrenia, and using startle modification to evaluate dopamine systems in newborn babies. Students work on a variety of projects with each other, and we often submit completed projects for presentation at national and international scientific meetings, as well as for publication.
Physiological mechanisms that underlie behavior and information processing
- Neumann, D., Hammond, F. M., Norton, J., & Blumenthal, T. D. (in press). Using startle to objectively measure anger and other emotional responses after traumatic brain injury: A pilot study. The Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation. xx, xx-xx.
- Lass-Hennemann, J., Deuter, C. E., Kuehl, L. K., Schulz, A., Blumenthal, T. D., & Schachinger, H. (in press). Effects of facial self-resemblance on the startle response and subjective ratings of erotic stimuli in heterosexual men. Archives of Sexual Behavior, xx, xx-xx.
- Glenn. C. R., Blumenthal, T. D., Klonsky, E. D., & Hajcak, G. (2011). Emotional reactivity in nonsuicidal self-injury: Divergence between self-report and startle measures. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 80, 166-170.
- Mathias, C. W., Blumenthal, T. D., Dawes, M. A., Liguori, A., Richard, D. M., Bray, B., Tong, W., and Dougherty, D. M. (2011). Failure to sustain prepulse inhibition in adolescent marijuana users. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 116, 110-116.
- Huggenberger, H. J., Suter, S. E., Blumenthal. T. D., & Schaechinger, H. (2011). Pre- and peri-natal predictors of startle eyeblink reaction and prepulse inhibition in healthy neonates. Psychophysiology, 48, 1004-1010.
- Nees, F., Hahn, M., Schulz, A., Blumenthal, T. D., & Schaechinger, H. (2009). Associative conditioning of prepulses in a startle inhibition paradigm. Psychophysiology, 46, 481-486.
- Schultz, A., Lass-Hennemann, J., Nees, F., Blumenthal, T. D., Berger, W., & Schaechinger, H. (2009). Cardiac modulation of startle eyeblink. Psychophysiology, 46, 234-240.
- Franklin, J. C., Bowker, K. B., & Blumenthal, T. D. (2009). Anxiety and prepulse inhibition of acoustic startle in a normative sample: The importance of signal-to-noise ratio. Personality and Individual Differences, 46, 369-373.
- Blumenthal, T. D., & Franklin, J. C. (2009). The Startle Eyeblink Response. In E. Harmon-Jones and J. Beer (Eds.), Methods in social neuroscience. Guilford Press; pp. 92-117.
- Blumenthal, T. D., Cuthbert, B. N., Filion, D. L., Hackley, S. A., Lipp, O. V., & van Boxtel, A. (2005). Committee report: Guidelines for human startle eyeblink electromyographic studies. Psychophysiology, 42, 1-15.
- Blumenthal, T. D., Elden, A., & Flaten, M. A. (2004). A comparison of several methods used to quantify prepulse inhibition of eyeblink responding. Psychophysiology, 41, 326-332.
- Flaten, M. A., Asli, O., & Blumenthal, T. D. (2003). Expectancies and placebo responses to caffeine-associated stimuli. Psychopharmacology, 169, 198-204.
- Blumenthal, T. D., & Swerdlow, C. D. (2002). Electrical shocks to the arm elicit and inhibit startle eyeblink. Psychophysiology, 39, 218-221.
- Blumenthal, T. D. (2001). Extraversion, attention, and startle response reactivity. Personality and Individual Differences, 30, 495-503.
- Melkonian, D., Blumenthal, T. D., & Gordon, E. (1999). Numerical Fourier transform spectroscopy of EMG half-waves: Fragmentary-decomposition-based approach to nonstationary signal analysis. Biological Cybernetics, 81, 457-467.
- Blumenthal, T. D. (1999). Short lead interval modification. In Dawson, M. E., Schell, A. M., & Boehmelt, A. H., Startle modification: Implications for neuroscience, cognitive science, and clinical science. (pp 51-71). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
- Sarno, A. J., Blumenthal, T. D., & Boelhouwer, A. J. W. (1997). Modification of the electrically-elicited eyeblink by acoustic, visual, and vibrotactile pulses. Psychobiology, 25, 253-265.
- Blumenthal, T. D., & Goode, C. T. (1991). The startle eyeblink response to low-intensity acoustic stimuli. Psychophysiology, 28, 296-306.
- Blumenthal, T. D., Avendano, A., & Berg, W. K. (1987). The startle response and auditory temporal summation in neonates. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 44, 64-79.
- Blumenthal, T. D., & Gescheider, G. A. (1987). Modification of the acoustic startle response by a tactile prepulse: Effects of stimulus onset asynchrony and prepulse intensity. Psychophysiology, 24, 320-327.
- Blumenthal, T. D., & Berg, W. K. (1986). The startle response as an indicator of temporal summation. Perception and Psychophysics, 40, 62-68.