Pre-pulse Inhibition

Using Virtual Reality to Study Pre-Pulse Inhibition

Pre-pulse inhibition (PPI) refers to the decrease in the response to a startling stimulus (such as a loud sound burst) when another weak stimulus precedes it closely in time. This startle response inhibition is believed to reflect sensory-motor gating, that is, the brain’s ability to modulate its sensitivity to incoming sensory stimuli. The effect of context on PPI is largely unknown. In a recently completed study, we used dynamic visual stimuli from virtual reality-based software to examine whether PPI changes when new information (i.e., novelty) is introduced into a realistic looking visual context. We found that changes introduced to a virtual living room impaired PPI. These results are currently under review for publication. Although preliminary, if replicated they could help inform the mechanism underlying some sensory processing impairments. As a next step, we are currently running a second PPI study designed to examine whether changes in emotional valence (pleasant/unpleasant) of cues modulates PPI.

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