Startle effects on saccadic responses to emotional target stimuli


Address correspondence to: Christian Eric Deuter, M.Sc., Institute of Psychobiology, University of Trier, Department of Clinical Psychophysiology, Johanniterufer 15, 54290 Trier, Germany. E-mail:


Startle stimuli elicit various physiological and cognitive responses. This study investigated whether acoustic startle stimuli affect saccadic reactions in an emotional pro- or antisaccade task. Startle probes were presented either 500 ms before or simultaneous with an imperative stimulus that indicated whether a saccade towards or away from positive, neutral, or negative peripheral target pictures had to be performed. Valence interacted with saccade direction according to an approach-avoidance pattern of gaze behavior, with delayed prosaccades to negative targets and antisaccades away from positive targets. Acoustic startle stimuli preceding the presentation of peripheral target pictures speeded up the initiation saccades, irrespective of stimulus valence. Results indicate a speeding of cognitive-motor processing by preceding startle stimuli.