Stress and the Startle Response

Cortisol release in a stressful situation can be beneficial for memory encoding and memory consolidation. Stimuli, such as odors, related to the stressful episode may successfully cue memory contents of the stress experience. A new study published in the journal Behavioral Neuroscence aimed at testing the potency of stress to influence startle responsivity 24 hr later and to implicitly reactivate emotional memory traces triggered by an odor involved. Participants were assigned to either a stress (Trier Social Stress Test [TSST]) or control (friendly TSST [f-TSST]) condition featuring an ambient odor. On the next day, participants underwent an auditory startle paradigm while their eyeblink reflex was recorded by an electrooculogram. Three different olfactory stimuli were delivered, one being the target odor presented the day before. Additionally, negative, positive, and pictures of the committee members were included for comparing general startle responsivity and fear-potentiated startle. Participants of the stress group demonstrated an enhanced startle response across all stimuli compared to participants of the control group. There were no specific effects with regard to the target odor. The typical fear-potentiated startle response occurred. Stressed participants tended to rate the target odor more aversive than control participants. Odor recognition memory did not differ between the groups, suggesting an implicit effect on odor valence. Our results show that acute stress exposure enhances startle responsivity 24 hr later. This effect might be caused by a shift of amygdala function causing heightened sensitivity, but lower levels of specificity

For the abstract


Related Stories

  • Can Feeling Insecure Predict Obesity?
  • Becoming a Mean Girl
  • Why Are We Offended by Media Violence?


The information provided on the is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between a patient/site visitor and his/her health professional. This information is solely for informational and educational purposes. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Neither the owners or employees of nor the author(s) of site content take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading this site. Always speak with your primary health care provider before engaging in any form of self treatment. Please see our Legal Statement for further information.

PsyWeb Poll

Are you currently taking or have you ever been prescribed anti-depressants?
Total votes: 3979