‘Priming’ the brain to generate rapid upper-limb reactions
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Evoked autonomic nervous system (ANS) activity may be an important modulator of rapid reactions, generated in the face of urgency and may serve to augment the parallel somatosensory processing to adjust speed of processing. The primary objective of the current study was to temporally pair auditory stimuli with whole body perturbations to determine if conditioning could ‘prime’ the central nervous system (CNS) to respond faster and with greater ANS reactivity to the auditory stimulus alone. Healthy young participants (n = 19) were seated in a custom chair, which tilted backwards upon the release of an electromagnet and were instructed to reach to grasp a handle located in front of their arm as fast as possible following an auditory cue. Three conditions were completed in the following order: (1) baseline—auditory cue alone (5 trials); (2) paired—auditory cue, followed by a chair tilt 110 ms later (20 trials); and (3) post-pairing—auditory cue alone (5 trials). Participants were not informed of the switch from paired to auditory-only stimuli in the first trial of the post-pairing task condition. Reaction time was measured using electromyography, and autonomic nervous system activity was monitored via the electrodermal response (EDR). The first trial post-pairing had significantly faster reaction time (Δ = 21 ms) and significantly greater EDR amplitude compared to the last trial prior to pairing (baseline). The amplitude of contraction and overall time to handle contact were not significantly different between the first trial post-pairing and the last trial prior to pairing. This study demonstrates that the CNS can be ‘primed’ to generate rapid reactions and an elevated autonomic response in the absence of whole body instability. This indicates that afferent volume generated following whole body instability is not the only determinant of rapid reactions and emphasizes the importance of physiologic measures of autonomic activity with respect to stimulus-evoked reaction time.
KeywordsReaction time Autonomic nervous system Sensory-motor integration Electrodermal response Conditioning Balance control
The authors would like to acknowledge Kailee Butchereit, Claire Lobsinger, Shailja Jain and Ashleigh Laine for their assistance with data collection. The authors would like to acknowledge the support of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, a Canadian Institutes of Health Research-STIHR Fellowship in Health Care and a MITACS Elevate Fellowship.