• Emotion;
  • Anticipation;
  • Startle reflex;
  • Affective pictures

Startle modulation was investigated as participants first anticipated and then viewed affective pictures in order to determine whether affective modulation of the startle reflex is similar in these different task contexts. During a 6-s anticipation period, a neutral light cue signaled whether the upcoming picture would portray snakes, erotica, or household objects; at the end of the anticipatory period, a picture in the signaled category was viewed for 6 s. Male participants highly fearful of snakes were recruited to maximize emotional arousal during anticipation and perception. Results indicated that the startle reflex was potentiated when anticipating either unpleasant (phobic) or pleasant (erotic) pictures, compared to neutral stimuli, whereas during perception, reflexes were potentiated when viewing unpleasant stimuli, and reduced when viewing pleasant pictures. The startle reflex is modulated by hedonic valence in picture perception, and by emotional arousal in a task context involving picture anticipation.