University of Wisconsin–Madison

Psychophysiology Methods

What can the blink of an eye tell us about someone’s typical response to stressors? Our research team has long been interested in how the startle response can provide a window into people’s emotional traits and states. Startle reactivity is an especially attractive non-invasive technique that can provide a two-way bridge to translate neuroscience research between preclinical animal models (e.g., rodents) and the human research laboratory. These studies can be particularly informative when similar measures (i.e., startle response) and manipulations (i.e., unpredictable threat) can be used across species. These studies aim to refine our understanding of how measures of general startle reactivity and the startle response to unpredictable threat can contribute as neurobiological indices of fear circuitry from the emerging National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) Research Domain Criteria perspective. However, there are many different ways that researchers may reasonably choose to process and analyze startle response data, which may have large and unintended consequences on the conclusions drawn from a study. Part of our laboratory’s program of research has been committed to empirically studying the psychometric properties of the startle response across several experimental tasks that are designed to examine stress reactivity. By examining the reliability and validity of the startle response across these experimental tasks we provide recommendations for best practices for quantification of the startle response and highlight the potential future applications as well as limitations of startle reactivity in psychological science. Finally, our research group has developed open source software tools for psychophysiological data reduction and data analysis.


  • Kaye JT, Bradford DE & Curtin JJ (2016). Psychometric properties of startle and corrugator response in NPU, Affective Picture Viewing, and Resting State tasks. Psychophysiology, 53(8), 1241-1255. PDF | OSF | Supplemental Information
  • Bradford DE, Starr MJ, Shackman AJ, Curtin JJ (2015). Empirically based comparisons of the reliability and validity of common quantification approaches for eyeblink startle potentiation in humans. Psychophysiolology, 52, 1669-1681. PDF | OSF
  • Bradford DE, Magruder KP, Korhumel RA, Curtin JJ (2014). Using the threat probability task to assess anxiety and fear to uncertain and certain threat. Journal of Visualized Experiments, 91, e51905. PDF | Video
  • Bradford DE, Kaye JT, Curtin JJ (2014). Not just noise: Individual differences in general startle reactivity predict startle reactivity to uncertain and certain threat. Psychophysiology, 51, 407-411. PMC3984356. PDF | Study Highlights
  • Curtin JJ, Lozano D, Allen JB (2007). The psychophysiology laboratory. In: JA Coan, JB Allen (Eds), The Handbook of Emotion Elicitation and Assessment, (pp 398-425), New York, Oxford University Press. PDF

Methodological resources from John Curtin and the Addiction Research Center

Lab Software Webpage

PhysBox: The Psychophysiology Toolbox
An open source toolbox for psychophysiological data reduction within EEGLab.

R package to support analyses involving General, Generalized, and Multi-level Linear Models

Resources For Setting Up A Psychophysiology Lab