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Keywords:

  • Startle;
  • Post-auricular reflex;
  • Reward;
  • Attention

Abstract

Because expectancies play a central role in current theories of dopaminergic neuron function, it is important to develop measures of reward anticipation processes. In the present study, reflexogenic bursts of white noise were presented to 39 healthy young adults as they awaited rewards and punishments in a gambling-like task. The rewards were small pieces of chocolate; the punishments, segments of bitter-tasting banana peel. Consistent with prior research on affective valence, postauricular reflexes were larger prior to rewards than punishments, whereas the reverse was true for acoustic blink reflexes. We theorized that potentiation of the postauricular reflex prior to consuming appetizing food is related to the priming of ear-retraction musculature during nursing in our remote ancestors.