Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Understanding the Startle Reaction: A Handy Guide for Writers

Photo Credit:
Wintersixfour>at Morguefile.com
Humans are born with a natural startle reaction that’s connected to the sympathetic nervous system. The working theory of most experts is that the startle reaction is nature’s way of making sure everything has a fighting chance of saving themselves should they find themselves caught in an unexpected attack. The startle reaction has been observed in both vertebrates and invertebrates.

Behaviorist call this instinctive reaction to being scared the startle response, most of us are more familiar with the term of fight or flight reaction. In most cases, the instinct to flee is too instinctive to ignore. The good news is that in most cases, the desire to run disappears as our conscious mind identifies whatever it is that spooked us and we’re able to logically deal with the situation.

The Science Behind the Startle Reaction

Interest in the Alexander Technique, a method used to help control a musical performer’s body tension and movement and how they impact the quality of their performance, led Frank Pierce Jones to devise a 1951 experiment that enabled him to “see” precisely how the body reacts when a person is startled.

During the course of his experiment, Jones observed that the first thing that occurred when a person gets startled is that the amygdala and hypothalamus trigger the a bodily response before the rest of the brain even fully recognizes the threat. Once the response is triggered, the spooked person’s neck muscles contract, forcing the head to move as five different muscles around the eyes tighten. The impulses telling the body to move, race downwards, flattening the chest while simultaneously contracting abominable muscles, nature’s way of preparing your body to survive a blow. While all this is happening, your arms jerk into a defensive position while your knees flex and prepare to race from the location. It takes less than a split second for this to occur.

Researchers have observed that the startle response kicks in approximately 20 milliseconds after the initial exposure to stimulus. It can end after approximately 500 milliseconds.

Researchers measure how people respond to the startle response by both attaching sensors to the muscles surrounding the test subject’s eyes, monitoring the electrical conductance of a in their skin, and videotaping the response to observe the physical reactions at a slowed down, frame-by-frame manner.

Controlling the Startle Response

Strictly speaking, it’s not possible to override the startle response. What is possible is learning how to become increasingly aware of your surroundings and adapting a semi-alert attitude at all times. These skills and life adjustments are what allow soldiers and police officers to remain cool, calm, and collected while they’re in the middle of an intense situations, though they’ll still get startled and jump when exposed to unexpected stimuli once they’re in a safe environment and are relaxed.
While it’s not possible to completely override the startle reaction, it is possible to train the body to adapt a specific stance or reaction following exposure to unexpected stimulus. Martial arts, military organizations, and law enforcement agencies use muscle memory to trigger a specific, fighting stance, that allows the person to respond in a manner that’s more fight than flight.

When the Startle Response Goes Into Overdrive

A startle response is a good thing, but in some people, it can go into overdrive, causing them to become over stimulated to a wide assortment of things, triggering extreme stress, anxiety, and tension. More importantly, the medical community believes that an overactive startle response indicates a person is struggling to cope with broader neurological conditions, which can include but aren’t limited to:

  • ·         Huntington’s Disease
  • ·         Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • ·         Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • ·         Hyperekplexia
  • ·         Schizophrenia

 It’s believed that by learning more about over-reactive startle responses will enable doctors to better determine how advanced a patient’s cognitive issues extend, leading to the ability to customize a treatment program that’s better adapted for each patient. Some feel that by monitoring the startle reaction, it becomes easier to determine exactly how well the patients respond to medications and psychological therapy.

Source Articles:

Saturday, September 10, 2016

WeWriWa Snippet for 9/11/16-Like Buffy

Hi all!
If you stopped by a couple weeks ago when I last posted, I can’t thank you enough for the helpful comments you made. Each one was great and gave me a great deal to think about, which I’ve always felt was the whole point of the WeWriWa blog hop. I’m always blown away by all the support and great advice the writing community has to offer. Thanks so much!

I’m still posting from my contemporary romantic thriller WIP, Shattered Glass. The protagonist is a
comic book writer and pop culture junkie who has managed to land herself in the middle of Wyoming, where she’s currently stranded without any type of cell phone signal.

This week’s snippet is short, thanks to some 2 word sentences and a bit heavy with pop culture references. It picks up right wherethe last snippet I posted left off.

“No Winchesters. No problem.” Harlow shoved the phone into her back pocket. “I’m a strong, independent woman. I’m smart. I’ve taken two self-defense classes. I don’t need to be saved by any guy, no matter how handsome and accomplished they are. I can take care of myself. Like Buffy.”
The words sounded good, almost believable, yet they failed to calm her twitchy nerves.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

WeWriWa Snippet for 8/28/16 Shades of Supernatural


I'm back for another week of WeWriWa fun! If you haven't heard of WeWriWa, it's a fun little blog hop where authors of all experience levels and genre's come together to share 8-10 sentence long snippets of their work. Over the years, I've found that it's a great way to tighten my writing. I've also met some truly fabulous writers who've been a fantastic source of support and advice.

Life stuff has prevented me from doing much fictional writing during the past year. I missed it. Particularly since I've had this idea for a contemporary novel, Shattered Glass,  percolating for a  few years.

I posted the opening lines a few weeks ago, during which it was revealed that my MC's cell phone had no signal. Since I live in a semi-rural area, spotty cell phone reception is a part of life, so I couldn't help poking a little fun at how pop culture's rather cliched method of using this as ominous foreshadowing.

As always, any and all advice is welcome. Thanks!

Harlow tapped at the screen with her fingernails, which didn’t magically create a signal. “If I was in the first act of a Supernatural episode right now, this would be a very, very bad thing.” Instant regret winged through Harlow as her mind’s eye conjured a contingency of black eyed demons, or worse, standing behind her. She rushed to paint a silver lining on her naturally dark imagination. “Of course, if this was the show, Dean and Sam would be here right now.”
Her gaze bounced to Elk Snort, around the parking lot, and to the street. Not a single black Impala, lanky Winchester brother, or salt filled rifle to be seen. Damn.