Monday, May 23, 2011

Startle Responses and PTSD

Startle responses according to the textbook "Introduction to Behavior and Learning" (Powell et al, 2009) is a
defensive reaction to a sudden unexpected stimulus. Startle responses cause an automatic tightening of muscles as well as hormone and internal organ changes (Powell et al, 2009.) We have all felt this as some point I am sure, it isn't a pleasant feeling at the time, but if lucky enough to be caught on video watching the response can be quite entertaining. The video I included is my favorite example of startle responses, it also shows how our protective instincts kick in with startle responses.

Our startle responses are tied to our basic instinct to survive, we feel threatened so we respond. When you view the video, how do you think you would have responded? All depending on our own backgrounds and living environments we react differently. From the sources I have listed at the end they talk about how people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and/or high anxiety are more likely to have a higher startle response then someone without either of the two. In a study done by
Arieh Y. Shalev, M.D., Tuvia Peri, Ph.D., Dalia Brandes, M.A., Sara Freedman, M.Sc., Scott P. Orr, Ph.D., and Roger K. Pitman, M.D, "they looked at the auditory startle response in trauma survivors with post traumatic stress disorder." The study proved that "differences in physiological response to startling tones develop along with PTSD in the months that follow a traumatic event. This pattern supports the theories that associate PTSD with progressive neuronal sensitization" (

Sources -- very interesting had a list of the basic ways people react to startling stimuli


  1. The video above is a classic (and hilarious) example of a startled response. As to answer your question, I believe my response would have been less lethal. When I am scared I will usually put out my hands and back away. It was interesting to read about the PTSD research that you spoke of. My best friend is a Marine and spent the last eight months in Afghanistan. He used to be a very easy-going person but I have noticed that lately he always seems on edge. When I asked him what part of being in a hostel environment he thought changed him the most, he said that he now reacts defensively to every loud noise (and that he can never have his back to a door). His reactions have become quicker as well. The research seems to be proven in my friends case.

  2. I thought this video was hilarious, and really does exhibit a genuine startle response. Personally, I'm pretty sure I would react the same way the man in the video reacted. I actually know a 100% disabled Vietnam Veteran who suffers greatly from PTSD. He seems to startle every time he hears a loud noise or if he hears someone sneaking up on him.

  3. Funny video. I think its true that people with different experiences will react differently. I know personally I would have just turned around, but i do have friends that would have reacted the same way as in the video. It triggers the fight or flight instinct.