The overall purpose of the proposed experiments is to extend a series of successful studies testing the general hypothesis that the reflexive startle response is modulated by emotional state. The new experiments are based on promising insights and theoretical innovations nourished by the research conducted in the current funding period. The proposed experiments 1) critically examine the consistency of affective modulation of startle across different stimulus types and different modes of processing, and 2) explore the generality of the motivational theory of emotional expression by investigating startle modulation for different emotional stimulus contents and for different expressed emotions. Measurement of probe-startle responses include both 1) the blink component of the elicited reflex to the probe and 2) the cortical event-related potential for the evoked brain response to the probe. The addition of probe ERPs is new since the last funding period, and promises to greatly illuminate the contribution of emotional and attentional processes in startle modulation. Furthermore, the broader physiological context of these effects is assessed through supplemental analysis of associated cortical, autonomic, and facial myoelectric measurement in each experiment.
Specific aims are 1) to determine if affective modulation of the startle response--that is, reflex potentiation during unpleasant stimulation and inhibition during pleasant stimulation--is consistent across emotional stimuli presented via picture, sound, or text media, and across processing modes involving perception, imagination, anticipation, and action; 2) to determine if specific semantic (e.g., threat, erotica) or emotional (e.g., fear, anger) categories of affective stimuli are associated with specific, discriminable, and reliable patterns of startle modulation, and how these patterns differ with the sex of the viewer; and 3) to develop instrumentation which allows us to measure an appetitive reflex--the evoked salivary response to an odor probe--in order to test the general hypothesis that reflex modulation reflects priming of low-level reflexes by the current motivational state, such that an aversive context primes the defensive startle reflex, whereas an appetitive context primes the consummatory salivary reflex.
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