Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Startle Reflex Humor

Much of my recent research involves the startle reflex (SR). The SR is a pre-attentive measure that is thought to be a protective mechanism. Think of the funhouse full-body startle as an extreme example.

In my lab -- and that of my advisor -- we elicit the reflex through a loud, brief burst of white noise. Although I will not bog you down with details here, emotion and attention affect the magnitude of the reflex. We measure this by measuring muscle activity below the eye, as the eyes blink as part of the reflex.

However, when you read about the SR, you notice that there are many other ways to elicit the reflex. One of those ways is through a sudden puff of air. Personally, I have always found that somewhat amusing.

Fast forward to today when I was sitting in the dentist's chair with my eyes closed. Out of nowhere (to me), the dental assistant hit my gums with the air "gun," and I immediately felt the characteristic jerk of my shoulders and an eye blink (even though my eyes were closed).

So in a true bit of nerd humor, there I sat with two sets of hands in my mouth, would-be smiling as I was all proud of myself for experiencing an air puff startle. I tortured the dentist and the assistant with a total-geek explanation of the whole deal. At any rate, you know you're a nerd when ...

As a sidenote, my dentist, Dr. Melissa Mariani, is like the best-ever. She needs some kind of award. If you can make me like the dentist, you are a miracle worker!


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