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Physiologic Responses to Loud Tones in Individuals With Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Buhlmann, Ulrike PhD; Wilhelm, Sabine PhD; Deckersbach, Thilo PhD; Rauch, Scott L. MD; Pitman, Roger K. MD; Orr, Scott P. PhD

doi: 10.1097/PSY.0b013e31802f2799
Original Articles

Objective: To determine if individuals with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are characterized by larger eyeblink and/or autonomic responses to sudden, loud (startling) tones.

Methods: Twenty participants with OCD and 21 mentally healthy control participants were presented with 15 consecutive 95-db, 500-msec, 1000-Hz tones with 0-msec rise and fall times at the same time orbicularis oculi electromyogram (EMG), heart rate (HR), and skin conductance (SC) responses were measured.

Results: Participants with OCD produced larger average HR responses and a slower decline in SC responses across the 15-tone presentations. A trend for larger than average eyeblink EMG responses in participants with OCD was also observed.

Conclusion: These results provide laboratory support for enhanced HR reactivity and a slower decline in SC responses to startling stimuli in individuals with OCD.

OCD = obsessive-compulsive disorder; PTSD = posttraumatic stress disorder; EMG = orbicularis oculi electromyogram; HR = heart rate; SC = skin conductance; SCID = Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV; YBOCS = Yale-Brown Obsessive-Compulsive Scale; STAI = State-Trait Anxiety Inventory; BDI-II = Beck Depression Inventory-II.

From the Department of Psychiatry (U.B., S.W., T.D., S.L.R., R.K.P.), Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA; Research Service (S.P.O.), Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Manchester, NH.

Address correspondence and reprint requests to Ulrike Buhlmann, OCD Clinic, Massachusetts General Hospital, Simches Research Building, Office 2.280, 185 Cambridge Street, Boston, MA 02114. E-mail:

Received for publication April 17, 2006; revision received October 12, 2006.

Copyright © 2007 by American Psychosomatic Society
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