Startle Reflex as a Physiological Measure of Emotion Regulation

Brittany C Speed


In the present study, the startle blink reflex is used as a measure of emotion regulation to affective picture stimuli. Based on the biphasic theory of emotion, it is hypothesized that the startle response will be largest in magnitude in the presence of negative emotional stimuli (Vrana, Spence, & Lang, 1988). It is also hypothesized that when attempting to decrease emotion, participants will show smaller blink magnitudes to negative images, and larger blink magnitudes when attempting to decrease emotion to positive images due to the aversive nature of the startle reflex. The present study highlights the difficulty of finding emotion regulation to positive images with the startle blink paradigm.  Participants were 6 female undergraduate students who viewed negative, positive and neutral affective picture stimuli, and attempted to either maintain or suppress their emotional responses to the images. Emotion modulation of the startle response was recorded before regulation instruction onset. Significant differences were found in blink magnitude for emotion modulation between positive and negative images, but neutral images were not significantly different from either. For negative images, blink magnitudes during emotion suppression were significantly smaller than when maintaining emotion. No significant regulation differences were found for the positive images.


Psychophysiology, Startle Reflex, Emotion Modulation, Emotion Regulation

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