Startle modulation was investigated as participants first
anticipated and then viewed affective pictures in order
to determine whether affective modulation of the startle
reflex is similar in these different task contexts. During
a 6-s anticipation period, a neutral light cue signaled
whether the upcoming picture would portray snakes, erotica,
or household objects; at the end of the anticipatory period,
a picture in the signaled category was viewed for 6 s.
Male participants highly fearful of snakes were recruited
to maximize emotional arousal during anticipation and perception.
Results indicated that the startle reflex was potentiated
when anticipating either unpleasant (phobic) or pleasant
(erotic) pictures, compared to neutral stimuli, whereas
during perception, reflexes were potentiated when viewing
unpleasant stimuli, and reduced when viewing pleasant pictures.
The startle reflex is modulated by hedonic valence in picture
perception, and by emotional arousal in a task context
involving picture anticipation.