Toward an Understanding of the Emotion-modulated Startle Eyeblink Reflex: The Case of Anger
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The emotion hypothesis of startle eyeblink modification posits that potentiated eyeblinks are observed in response to fear/disgust (aversive) pictures and eyeblink inhibition occurs in response to pleasant (appetitive) pictures due to the degree to which the stimuli match with the aversive startle probe. Stimuli high in arousal elicit exaggerated responses. Four studies sought to investigate the effect of angering pictures on the startle eyeblink response. Three potential hypotheses were posed: 1) given anger's high levels of arousal and negativity, eyeblinks will be potentiated like those to fear/disgust pictures; 2) given anger's arousing and appetitive qualities, eyeblinks will be inhibited like those to pleasant pictures; 3) anger's arousal, negativity, and approach qualities will balance each other out causing eyeblinks resembling those in response to neutral pictures. Study 1 supported the third hypothesis in that eyeblinks to angering and neutral pictures did not differ, despite angering pictures being rated higher on arousal and anger and lower in valence. These results replicated in Study 2 with a different set of angering pictures. Also, Study 2 demonstrated that dysphoric participants exhibited potentiated eyeblinks during angering pictures much like eyeblinks during fear/disgust stimuli, whereas non-dysphoric participants did not. Ratings of pictures on arousal, valence, and anger did not differ between groups. Constructive patriotism related to inhibited eyeblinks during angering pictures. Study 3 found that dysphoric participants rated angering pictures higher in fear than did non-dysophoric participants, suggesting that the potentiated eyeblinks observed in Study 2 were a result of greater perceived fear. Study 4 again showed that eyeblinks during angering and neutral pictures did not differ, and that constructive patriotism related to inhibited eyeblinks. Taken together, results are consistent with the third hypothesis and suggest that angering stimuli elicit eyeblinks much like those to neutral stimuli due to the competing influences of arousal, valence, and motivation on the startle eyeblink reflex.
Peterson, Carly (2012). Toward an Understanding of the Emotion-modulated Startle Eyeblink Reflex: The Case of Anger. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from