Get access

Expressive suppression during an acoustic startle


  • The authors thank members of the Stanford Psychophysiology Laboratory for their feedback on a previous draft of this article. The authors also thank Nicole Roberts and Jose Soto for their contributions to this research. This research was supported by NIMH grants MH58147 and MH50841 and NIA grant AG17766.

Address reprint requests to: Dr. Tim Hagemann, Department of Organizational Psychology, University of Dortmund, Emil-Figge-Str. 50, 44227 Dortmund, Germany. E-mail:


Previous studies have shown that inhibiting negative or positive emotion-expressive behavior leads to increased sympathetic activation. Inhibiting facial behavior while in an affectively neutral state has no such physiological consequences. This suggests that there may be something special about inhibiting emotion-expressive behavior. To test the boundary conditions of the suppression effect, acoustic startles were delivered to 252 participants in three experimental groups. Participants in one group received unanticipated startles. Participants in the other two groups were told that after a 20-s countdown a loud noise would occur; participants in one of these groups were further told to inhibit their expressive behavior. Results indicated that startle suppression increased sympathetic activation. These findings extend prior work on emotion suppression, and suggest that inhibiting other biologically based responses also may be physiologically taxing.