Startle potentiation in aversive anticipation: Evidence for state but not trait effects

Jack B. Nitschke, Christine L. Larson, Marian J. Smoller, Sarah D. Navin, Adrian J.C. Pederson, Dante Ruffalo, Kristen L. Mackiewicz, Shannon M. Gray, Elise Victor, Richard J. Davidson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


The present study was undertaken to determine whether aversiveness contributes to startle potentiation in anticipation of affective pictures above and beyond the effects of emotional arousal. Further, participants high in trait anxious apprehension, which is characterized by worry about the future, were expected to show especially pronounced anticipatory startle responses. Startle blink reflex was measured during warning stimuli that predicted the valence of ensuing aversive/unpleasant, pleasant, or neutral pictures. Startle magnitude was larger in anticipation of aversive than of pleasant pictures and smallest in anticipation of neutral pictures. Enhanced startle potentiation was not found in anxious apprehension subjects. These data suggest that the aversive nature of stimuli contribute to the potentiation of startle above and beyond the effects of emotional arousal, which may be a universal phenomenon not modulated by individual differences.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)254-258
Number of pages5
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2002
Externally publishedYes


  • Anticipation
  • Anticipatory anxiety
  • Anxious apprehension
  • Emotion
  • Startle reflex

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Neurology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Biological Psychiatry


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