Airpuff startle probes: an efficacious and less aversive alternative to white-noise

Biol Psychol. 2005 Mar;68(3):283-97. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsycho.2004.07.007.


Fear-potentiated startle (FPS) is an increasingly popular psychophysiological method for the objective assessment of fear and anxiety. Studies applying this method often elicit the startle reflex with loud white-noise stimuli. Such intense stimuli may, however, alter psychological processes of interest by creating unintended emotional or attentional artifacts. Additionally, loud acoustic probes may be unsuitable for use with infants, children, the elderly, and those with hearing damage. Past studies have noted robust and reliable startle reflexes elicited by low intensity airpuffs. The current study compares the aversiveness of white-noise (102 dB) and airpuff (3 psi) probes and examines the sensitivity of each probe for the assessment of fear-potentiated startle. Results point to less physiological arousal and self-reported reactivity to airpuff versus white-noise probes. Additionally, both probes elicited equal startle magnitudes, response probabilities, and levels of fear-potentiated startle. Such results support the use of low intensity airpuffs as efficacious and relatively non-aversive startle probes.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study

MeSH terms

  • Acoustics
  • Adult
  • Air Movements
  • Anxiety Disorders
  • Artifacts
  • Emotions
  • Fear*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Noise / adverse effects*
  • Reflex, Startle / physiology*
  • Reproducibility of Results