Affect, attention, or anticipatory arousal? Human blink startle modulation in forward and backward affective conditioning.

Research paper by Kimberley M KM Mallan, Ottmar V OV Lipp, Marilia M Libera

Indexed on: 22 Apr '08Published on: 22 Apr '08Published in: International Journal of Psychophysiology


Affect modulates the blink startle reflex in the picture-viewing paradigm, however, the process responsible for reflex modulation during conditional stimuli (CSs) that have acquired valence through affective conditioning remains unclear. In Experiment 1, neutral shapes (CSs) and valenced or neutral pictures (USs) were paired in a forward (CS-->US) manner. Pleasantness ratings supported affective learning of positive and negative valence. Post-acquisition, blink reflexes were larger during the pleasant and unpleasant CSs than during the neutral CS. Rather than affect, attention or anticipatory arousal were suggested as sources of startle modulation. Experiment 2 confirmed that affective learning in the picture-picture paradigm was not affected by whether the CS preceded the US. Pleasantness ratings and affective priming revealed similar extents of affective learning following forward, backward or simultaneous pairings of CSs and USs. Experiment 3 utilized a backward conditioning procedure (US-->CS) to minimize effects of US anticipation. Again, blink reflexes were larger during CSs paired with valenced USs regardless of US valence implicating attention rather than anticipatory arousal or affect as the process modulating startle in this paradigm.