Startle potentiation by threat of aversive stimuli and darkness in adolescents: A multi-site study

Christian Grillon, Kathleen R. Merikangas, Lisa Dierker, Nancy Snidman, Rosa Isela Arriaga, Jerome Kagan, Bonny Donzella, Tom Dikel, Charles Nelson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

56 Scopus citations


In recent years, the startle reflex has become an exciting new tool to investigate affective responses to aversive stimuli in humans. The popularity of this methodology is largely based on the substantial amount of animal research available on this topic. Several procedures have been developed to examine startle potentiation in humans, but most studies have been carried out in adults and may not be appropriate for children or adolescents. The present study is a multi-site project (Yale University, Harvard University, and the University of Minnesota) investigating two new procedures to examine the potentiation of startle in adolescents. The subjects were 50 male and female aged 13-17 years old. One procedure examined fear-potentiated startle to the threat of an unpleasant airblast directed to the larynx. The second examined the facilitation of startle in darkness. Potentiation was found using each procedure and the degree of potentiation was: similar across laboratories. These results suggest that both the threat of an airblast and darkness daft reliably be used to examine startle potentiation in young subjects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)63-73
Number of pages11
JournalInternational Journal of Psychophysiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 1 1999

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Research supported by NIMH grants 1 R29 MH50720 and 1 R01 MH53618-01A2 (CG), grant 1 RO1 DA05348 (KRM), and a grant from the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Psychopathology and Development.


  • Adolescents
  • Anxiety
  • Darkness
  • Fear
  • Startle reflex


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