Single-trial event-related potentials and autonomic measures of the orienting reflex
We aimed to clarify the event-related potentials (ERPs) associated with elicitation and habituation of the basic Orienting Reflex (OR). Participants were presented with 16 innocuous tones, alternating in intensity, at long variable inter-stimulus intervals, with no task. This allowed us to examine stimulus novelty and intensity effects in the absence of stimulus-related task demands. Single-trial ERPs were extracted to obtain estimates of the early N1 and the late positive complex (LPC) to each stimulus. Electrodermal responses showed substantial main effects of trials and intensity, supporting their functionality as an OR index. Cardiac deceleration showed no systematic change with intensity or trials, suggesting that it marks the transient onset of each stimulus, early in the stimulus-processing sequence. Respiratory pause showed a substantial main effect of trials but no intensity effect, suggesting that it reflects an intermediate processing stage. A main effect of intensity, but no simple trial effect, was apparent in the N1, suggesting that it reflects a different intermediate processing stage. The subsequent LPC showed only a topographic interaction with trials and intensity, failing to support any substantive role in OR processing. These different stimulus–response profiles are discussed in the context of a sequential processing model of the OR.