A startling absence of emotion effects: Active attention to the startle probe as a motor task cue appears to eliminate modulation of the startle reflex by valence and arousal

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Research has shown that during emotional imagery, valence and arousal each modulate the startle reflex. Here, two imagery-startle experiments required participants to attend to the startle probe as a simple reaction time cue. In Experiment 1, four emotional conditions differing in valence and arousal were examined. Experiment 2, to accentuate potential valence effects, included two negative high arousal, a positive high arousal and a negative low arousal condition. Imagery effectively manipulated emotional valence and arousal, as indicated by heart rate and subjective ratings. Compared to baseline, imagery facilitated startle responses. However, valence and arousal failed to significantly affect startle magnitude in both experiments and startle latency in Experiment 1. Results suggest that emotional startle modulation is eclipsed when the probe is significant for task completion and/or cues a motor response. Findings suggest that an active, rather than defensive, response set may interfere with affective startle modulation, warranting further investigation. (C) 2011 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.