, Volume 20, Issue 2, pp 177-186

Fear potentiation of the acoustic startle reflex using noises of various spectral frequencies as conditioned stimuli


The effectiveness of noise of various intensities and frequencies in modulating the amplitude of the acoustic startle reflex was evaluated, as a preliminary test of the capacity of these noises to produce consistent and reliable fear-potentiated startle in rats. It was determined that bands of noise containing high frequencies (greater than 10 kHz) tend to unconditionally reduce acoustic startle responses, probably by masking the high-frequency startle-eliciting stimulus. Noise containing high frequencies produced reliable fear-potentiated startle only when its estimated unconditioned startle suppression was subtracted from the enhancement obtained after pairing it with footshocks. Noises devoid of high frequencies produced modest-unconditioned startle enhancements and the most robust and reliable fear-potentiated startle when they were paired with footshocks. A nonmonotonic relationship between training shock intensity and the level of fear-potentiated startle was also exhibited when a low-frequency noise was used as a conditioned stimulus, a finding consistent with previous studies in which a visual stimulus was used. Finally, a differential Pavlovian conditioning procedure indicated that rats could readily discriminate between two different low-frequency bands of noise. The outcome of these experiments indicates that it is easier to employ low-frequency bands of noise to obtain auditory fear-potentiated startle with high-frequency startle-eliciting stimuli.

This research was supported by NIMH Grant MH-25642, MFM7840, NINCDS Grant NS-18033, Research Scientist Development Award MH-00004 to Michael Davis, a grant from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, and the State of Connecticut. We thank William A. Falls for his comments on an earlier draft of this manuscript. We are also grateful to Court Chapman, Bruel & Kjaer representative, for spectrogram measurements.