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Psychol Sci. 2008 Sep;19(9):865-73. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2008.02170.x.

Both predator and prey: emotional arousal in threat and reward.

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Center for the Study of Emotion and Attention, P.O. Box 112766, Gainesville, FL 32611, USA.


This research examined the psychophysiology of emotional arousal anticipatory to potentially aversive and highly pleasant outcomes. Human brain reactions (event-related potentials) and body reactions (heart rate, skin conductance, the probe startle reflex) were assessed along motivational gradients determined by apparent distance from sites of potential punishment or reward. A predator-prey survival context was simulated using cues that signaled possible money rewards or possible losses; the cues appeared to loom progressively closer to the viewer, until a final step when a rapid key response could ensure reward or avoid a punishing loss. The observed anticipatory response patterns of heightened vigilance and physiological mobilization are consistent with the view that the physiology of emotion is founded on action dispositions that evolved in mammals to facilitate survival by dealing with threats or capturing life-sustaining rewards.

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