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Psychophysiology. 2006 Mar;43(2):197-206.

Processing of emotional adjectives: Evidence from startle EMG and ERPs.

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Department of Psychology, University of Konstanz, Konstanz, Germany.


Affective startle modulation in the electromyographic (EMG), auditory startle evoked potentials, and visually evoked potentials (VEPs) were assessed while subjects evaluated pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral adjectives. Acoustic startle probes were presented at random time points 2.5-4.0 s after word onset. The visual P2 and P3 potentials were generally larger during processing of emotional than of neutral adjectives. In contrast, the late positive component was enhanced and was correlated with larger EMG startle responses and auditory startle evoked potential P3 amplitudes for pleasant words only. During internal cognitive activity, the startle reflex represents a measure of "processing interrupt." Thus the startle tone interrupted processing of particularly pleasant adjectives and caused re-alerting to environmental stimuli. Specific effects for pleasant material may arise from a "positivity offset," favoring responses to pleasant material at lower arousal levels.

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