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Keywords:

  • Emotion;
  • T reflex;
  • Pleasure;
  • Arousal;
  • Starle reflex;
  • Reflex modulation

Abstract

The human startle reflex is reliably modulated by the affective valence of foreground pictures, with larger reflexes elicited when viewing unpleasant relative to pleasant scenes. If this modulation is due to priming of the defensive startle reflex by an aversive foreground, a different pattern should occur for a reflex that is not inherently defensive in nature. In the current study, affective modulation was investigated using the spinal tendinous (T) reflex, which is well documented as sensitive to differences in arousal and is involved in actions that are both appetitively and defensively motivated. As such, T reflexes elicited during unpleasant pictures were not expected to be augmented relative to those elicited in the context of pleasant pictures. Results showed that T reflexes were facilitated during processing of arousing stimuli – either pleasant or unpleasant relative to low-arousal neutral materials. These effects of emotional stimuli on T-reflex amplitude are consistent with the hypothesis that motivational priming underlies affective reflex modulation.