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The Acoustic startle reflex (or acoustic startle response is a type of startle reflex, a response to sudden, startling stimuli, usually a sudden noise. Usually the onset of the startle response is reflectory. The startle reflex is a brainstem reflectory reaction that serves to protect the back of the neck (whole-body startle), or the eye (eyeblink), and also facilitates escape from sudden stimuli. It is found across the lifespan and in many species. An individual's emotional state may lead to a variety of different responses.[1]

The pathway for this response was largely elucidated in rats in the 1980s.[2] The basic pathway follows the auditory pathway from the ear up to the Nucleus of the Lateral Lemniscus (LLN) from where it then activates a motor centre in the reticular formation. This centre sends descending projections to lower motor neurones of the limbs. In slightly more detail this corresponds to: Ear (cochlea)->Cranial Nerve VIII (auditory) -> Cochlear Nucleus (ventral/inferior) -> LLN -> Caudal pontine reticular nucleus (PnC). The whole process has a less than 10ms latency. There is no involvement of the superior/rostral or inferior/caudal colliculus in the reaction that "twitches" the hindlimbs, but these may be important for adjustment of pinnae, gaze towards the direction of the sound or the associated blink.[3]

Normal people are not startled by sounds at 180 decibels, even though sounds above 90 decibels cause hearing damage. People become desensitized since infancy. People suffering from hyperacusis are easily startled and may suffer from a ligyrophobia.

See alsoEdit


  1. Peter J. Lang,Margaret M. Bradley, Bruce M Cuthbert. "Emotion, attention, and the startle reflex" 1990. URL accessed on 2011-10-01.
  2. Davis, M; Gendelman, Ds; Tischler, Md; Gendelman, Pm (Jun 1982). A primary acoustic startle circuit: lesion and stimulation studies. Journal of Neuroscience 2 (6): 791–805.
  3. Castellote, Jm; Kumru, H; Queralt, A; Valls-Solé, J (Feb 2007). A startle speeds up the execution of externally guided saccades. Experimental brain research. Experimentelle Hirnforschung. Experimentation cerebrale 177 (1): 129–36.

Further readingEdit

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