Triggering prepared actions by sudden sounds: Reassessing the evidence for a single mechanism
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Loud acoustic stimuli can unintentionally elicit volitional acts when a person is in a state of readiness to execute them (the StartReact effect). It has been assumed that the same subcortical pathways and brain regions underlie all instances of the StartReact effect. They are proposed to involve the startle reflex pathways, and the eliciting mechanism is distinct from other ways in which sound can affect the motor system. We present an integrative review which shows that there is no evidence to support these assumptions. We argue that motor command generation for learned, volitional orofacial, laryngeal and distal limb movements is cortical and the StartReact effect for such movements involves transcortical pathways. In contrast, command generation for saccades, locomotor corrections and postural adjustments is subcortical and subcortical pathways are implicated in the StartReact effect for these cases. We conclude that the StartReact effect is not a special phenomenon mediated by startle reflex pathways, but rather is a particular manifestation of the excitatory effects of intense stimulation on the central nervous system.
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