The startle reflex in schizophrenia: habituation and personality correlates

Akdag SJ, Nestor PG, O’Donnell BF, Niznikiewicz MA, Shenton ME, McCarley RW

Schizophr. Res. 2003 Nov;64(2-3):165-73

PMID: 14613681


Schizophrenia has long been associated with abnormal patterns of arousal that are thought to reflect disturbances in the reticular-activating system of the brain. Psychophysiological investigations of sensory responsivity have repeatedly demonstrated reduced reactivity and habituation to moderately intense stimuli in patients with schizophrenia. While not traditionally used as a measure of physiological arousal, the startle reflex represents an alternative method for studying reactivity and habituation in schizophrenia. This study examined eye blink responsivity to a repeatedly presented intense acoustic startle probe in men with chronic schizophrenia and healthy normal controls. Subjects’ personality profiles were also measured, as increased reactivity and arousal have been traditionally implicated as a physiological component to the personality trait of neuroticism. Results indicated that schizophrenic subjects did demonstrate significantly reduced rates of habituation to the acoustic startle probe and higher scores on measures of neuroticism in comparison to normal controls. However, no correlation between habituation rate and neuroticism emerged. These studies replicate previous findings of habituation in schizophrenia and provide further evidence for sensory reactivity disturbances in schizophrenia. The relationship of these findings to cognitive disturbances in schizophrenia is considered and directions for future research are discussed.