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The latency and pattern of muscle recruitment in the startle response elicited by unexpected auditory stimulation was determined in 12 healthy subjects. Reflex EMG activity was recorded first in orbicularis oculi. This was of similar latency to the normal auditory blink reflex and, unlike the generalized startle response, persisted despite the frequent presentation of the test stimulus. It is argued that this early latency activity in orbicularis oculi represents a normal auditory blink reflex and is not part of the generalized auditory startle reflex. With the exception of this early latency activity in orbicularis oculi, the relative latencies of both cranial and distal muscles in the auditory startle response increased with the distance of their respective segmental innervations from the caudal brainstem. Thus the earliest EMG activity was recorded in sternocleidomastoid. The recruitment of caudal muscles was relatively slow and the latencies of the intrinsic hand muscles were disproportionately long. The pattern of recruitment of cranial muscles suggests a brainstem origin for the normal startle response. Studies on the auditory startle reflex in animals are reviewed in the light of this finding.


Journal article



Publication Date



114 ( Pt 4)


1891 - 1902


Acoustic Stimulation, Adult, Aged, Aged, 80 and over, Blinking, Electromyography, Humans, Middle Aged, Muscles, Reaction Time, Reference Values, Reflex, Startle