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Neuroscience PhD at Wake Forest University at Wake Forest University

Wake Forest University Graduate School » Neuroscience PhD at Wake Forest University

Terry Blumenthal

Terry Blumenthal
My work involves using the startle reflex to look at central nervous system function. The startle reflex is an easy and noninvasive measure of CNS activity, and we assess this activity by measuring the electrical activity of the muscle that causes the eye to blink. This muscle activity is driven directly by a set of neurons in the brainstem and is affected by a number of different factors, such as stimulus parameters (physical properties of the stimulus, which sensory system is stimulated, interactions between sensory systems), subject parameters (extraversion, anxiety), and situation parameters (social encounter, directed attention). Two nice things about this startle reflex are: 1) the fact that we can easily measure CNS activity without breaking the skin, and 2) the fact that this reflex is so sensitive to a wide variety of factors. This makes the startle reflex a useful probe or measurement tool for those factors.
  • Recent projects include using the startle response and its modification by other stimuli to evaluate a variety of issues in several areas of psychology. These include looking at differences in automatic processing of stimuli during periods of directed attention versus relaxation; evaluating simple stimulus processing during anticipation of a social encounter, in people with either high or low trait anxiety; measuring fundamental information processing properties based on signal-to-noise ratio and stimulus intensity. We also collaborate with labs at other Universities, and these projects currently involve using startle responding as an assessment of information processing abilities in schizophrenia, and using startle modification to evaluate dopamine systems in newborn babies. Students work on a variety of projects with each other, and we often submit completed projects for presentation at national and international scientific meetings, as well as for publication.


  • Benke, C., Blumenthal, T. D., Modeß, C., & Hamm, A. O., & Pané-Farré, C. A. (in press). Effects of anxiety sensitivity and expectations on the modulation of the startle eyeblink response during a caffeine challenge. Psychopharmacology.
  • Washington, J. R., & Blumenthal, T. D. (2015). Effects of a startle stimulus on response speed and inhibition in a Go/NoGo task. Psychophysiology, 52, 745-753.
  • Blumenthal, T. D., Reynolds, J. Z., & Spence, T. E. (2015). Support for the interruption and protection hypotheses of prepulse inhibition of startle: Evidence from a modified Attention Network Test. Psychophysiology, 52, 397-406.
  • Deuter, C. E., Kuehl, L. K., Blumenthal. T. D., Schulz, A., Oitzl, M. S., & Schächinger , H. (2013). Effects of cold pressor stress on the human startle response. PLOS One, 7(11), e49866.
  • Huggenberger, H. J., Suter, S. E., Blumenthal, T. D., & Schächinger , H. (2013). Maternal social stress modulates the development of prepulse inhibition of startle in infants. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, 3, 84-90.
  • Kuehl, L. K., Lass-Hennemann, J., Richter, S., Blumenthal, T. D., Oitzl, M., & Schächinger , H. (2010). Accelerated trace eyeblink conditioning after cortisol IV infusion. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, 94, 547-533.
  • Rejeski, W. J., Blumenthal, T. D., Miller, G. D., Lobe, M., Davis, C., & Brown, L. (2010). State craving, food availability, and reactivity to preferred snack foods. Appetite, 54, 77-83.
  • Franklin, J. C., Heilbron, N., Guerry, J. D., Bowker, K. B., & Blumenthal, T. D. (2009). Antisocial and borderline personality disorder symptomatologies are associated with decreased prepulse inhibition:  The importance of optimal experimental parameters. Personality and Individual Differences, 47, 439-443.
  • Blumenthal, T. D., Cuthbert, B. N.,  Filion, D. L., Hackley, S. A., Lipp, O. V., & van Boxtel, A. (2005). Committee report: Guidelines for human startle eyeblink electromyographic studies. Psychophysiology, 42, 1-15.
  • Hill, B. D., & Blumenthal, T. D. (2005). Inhibition of acoustic startle using different mechanoreceptive channels. Perception & Psychophysics, 67, 741-747.
  • Melkonian, D., Blumenthal, T. D., & Meares, R. (2003). High resolution fragmentary decomposition - a model based method of non-stationary electrophysiological signal analysis. Journal of Neuroscience Methods, 131, 149-159.
  • Flaten, M. A., Asli, O., & Blumenthal, T. D. (2003). Expectancies and placebo responses to caffeine-associated stimuli. Psychopharmacology, 169, 198-204.
  • Blumenthal, T. D. (2001). Extraversion, attention, and startle response reactivity. Personality and Individual Differences, 30, 495-503.