, Volume 11, Issue 4, pp 235-242
Date: 07 Oct 2013

Early selective attention effects on cutaneous and acoustic blink reflexes


In two experiments, selective modulation of the human blink reflex was examined by directing subjects to judge duration of the startling or nonstartling member of an acoustic-cutaneous stimulus pair. The startling stimulus was acoustic in the first experiment and cutaneous in the second. In both experiments, magnitude and onset latency were facilitated when the subjects attended to rather than away from the reflex-eliciting stimulus, although changes in cutaneous reflex size were insignificant. However, a nonselective inhibition of blink magnitude on warned relative to unwarned trials, associated with latency facilitation of the cutaneous reflex, was a stronger effect. The existence of both selective, concordant and nonselective, discordant changes in latency and magnitude could not be explained by a single mechanism. Heart rate changes also suggested that warning initiated some process in addition to attention to intake. The predictability of warned events may play a larger role than has previously been recognized.

This research was supported by NIH Grant HD01490, by a Research Scientist award (K3-MH21762) to F.K.G., by a NSF predoctoral fellowship to S.A.H., and by a core support grant (HD03352) to the Waisman Center on Mental Retardation and Human Development. Experiment 1 was reported at the 21st annual meeting of the Society for Psychophysiological Research and in a master’s thesis by S.A.H. We gratefully acknowledge the valuable contributions of Bruno Anthony during all phases of this study. Thanks are also extended to Christine Wang for technical assistance and to Bonnie Zeigler for many helpful suggestions.