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Keywords:

  • Startle;
  • Reflex modulation;
  • Emotion;
  • Imagery;
  • Skin conductance;
  • Heart rate;
  • Facial EMG

Abstract

The startle reflex, facial electromyogram (EMG), and autonomic nervous system responses were examined during imagery varying in affective valence and arousal. Subjects (N= 48) imagined affective situations during tone-cued 8-strials. Startle blink magnitudes were larger and latencies faster during negatively valent than during positively valent conditions and during high-arousal than during low-arousal conditions. Greatest heart rate acceleration and fastest and largest skin conductance responses to startle probes occurred during high-arousal imagery. Zygomatic and orbicularis oculi facial muscle activities were higher during high-arousal imagery, whereas corrugator muscle activity was higher during low-arousal imagery. Zygomatic and corrugator activity also varied with emotional valence. The startle and facial EMG responses are most parsimoniously organized by the negative affect (NA) and positive affect (PA) dimensions, respectively. This NA/PA framework integrates previous research, dimensional theories of emotional behavior, and physiological assessment of pathological emotion.