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Keywords:

  • Event-related potentials;
  • P300;
  • Startle;
  • Emotion;
  • Attention

Reflexive eyeblinks to a startle probe vary with the pleasantness of affective pictures, whereas the corresponding P300 varies with emotional arousal. The impact of attention to the probe on these effects was examined by varying task and probe type. Probes were either nonstartling tones or startling noises presented during affective picture viewing. Half the participants performed a task requiring attention to the probes; the other participants were told to ignore the probes. Blinks to the startle probe varied with picture pleasantness for both task and nontask conditions. In contrast, P300 magnitudes for both startle and tone probes were reduced during emotionally arousing pictures, irrespective of pleasantness, in task and nontask conditions. Further, attending to the startle probe prompted an augmentation of N100 during unpleasant pictures. The data suggest that affective modulation of probe responses reflects obligatory processes in picture perception.