Association between neural reactivity and startle reactivity to uncertain threat in two independent samples

Stephanie M. Gorka*, Lynne Lieberman, Stewart A Shankman, K. Luan Phan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Prior studies indicate that anxiety disorders are associated with heightened sensitivity to uncertain threat (U threat). Individual differences in reactivity to U threat have been measured in the laboratory with two methodologies—startle eyeblink potentiation and fMRI. While startle and fMRI are purported to relate to each other, very little research exists on whether individual differences in one measure are associated with individual differences in another and, thus, whether startle and fMRI capture shared mechanisms. Therefore, the current study was designed to investigate if and where in the brain measures of startle potentiation and fMRI BOLD signal correlate during response to U threat across two independent samples. Participants in both studies completed two threat anticipation tasks—once during collection of startle potentiation and once during fMRI. In Study 1 (n = 43), the startle and fMRI tasks both used electric shock as the threat. As an extension, in Study 2 (n = 38), the startle task used electric shock but the fMRI task used aversive images. Despite these methodological differences, greater startle potentiation to U threat was associated with greater dorsal anterior cingulate, caudate, and orbitofrontal cortex reactivity to U threat in both samples. The findings suggest that startle and fMRI measures of responding to U threat overlap, and points toward an integrated brain-behavior profile of aberrant U threat responding.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)652-662
Number of pages11
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2017


  • Anxiety
  • Startle potentiation
  • Unpredictable threat
  • fMRI

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Neurology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Biological Psychiatry

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