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An emotion-modulated acoustic startle paradigm for inducing positive and negative affect was used to address pregoal and postgoal affect. Participants played a computerized lottery task in which they chose digits that could match a subsequently displayed, random set of numbers. In the positive conditions, matches led to monetary rewards. In the negative condition, matches led to an aversive noise blast. In three experiments, we found eyeblink startle magnitude was potentiated just prior to feedback concerning reward outcome, suppressed following the feedback that a monetary reward was won, and potentiated when threatened with an aversive noise. When presented with a 0%, 45%, 90%, or 100% chance of winning, higher probabilities suppressed startle response after feedback whereas the 45% trials did not. These data indicate that postgoal positive affect (winning reward) reliably suppressed the startle response whereas pregoal positive affect did not.
The authors examined the time course of affective responding associated with different affective dimensions--anxious apprehension, anxious arousal, and anhedonic depression--using an emotion-modulated startle paradigm. Participants high on 1 of these 3 dimensions and nonsymptomatic control participants viewed a series of affective pictures with acoustic startle probes presented before, during, and after the stimuli. All groups exhibited startle potentiation during unpleasant pictures and in anticipation of both pleasant and unpleasant pictures. Compared with control participants, symptomatic participants exhibited sustained potentiation following the offset of unpleasant stimuli and a lack of blink attenuation during and following pleasant stimuli. Common and unique patterns of affective responses in the 3 types of mood symptoms are discussed.
Our outside world changes continuously, for example, when driving through traffic. An important question is how our brain deals with this constant barrage of rapidly changing sensory input and flexibly selects only newly goal-relevant information for further capacity-limited processing in working memory. The challenge our brain faces is experimentally captured by the attentional blink (AB): an impairment in detecting the second of two target stimuli presented in close temporal proximity among distracters. Many theories have been proposed to explain this deficit in processing goal-relevant information, with some attributing the AB to capacity limitations related to encoding of the first target and others assigning a critical role to on-line selection mechanisms that control access to working memory. The current study examined the role of striatal dopamine in the AB, given its known role in regulating the contents of working memory. Specifically, participants performed an AB task and their basal level of dopamine D2-like receptor binding was measured using PET and [F-18]fallypride. As predicted, individual differences analyses showed that greater D2-like receptor binding in the striatum was associated with a larger AB, implicating striatal dopamine and mechanisms that control access to working memory in the AB. Specifically, we propose that striatal dopamine may determine the AB by regulating the threshold for working memory updating, providing a testable physiological basis for this deficit in gating rapidly changing visual information. A challenge for current models of the AB lies in connecting more directly to these neurobiological data.
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.
Despite the prominence of emotional dysfunction in psychopathology, relatively few experiments have explicitly studied emotion regulation in adults. The present study examined one type of emotion regulation: voluntary regulation of short-term emotional responses to unpleasant visual stimuli. In a sample of 48 college students, both eyeblink startle magnitude and corrugator activity were sensitive to experimental manipulation. Instructions to suppress negative emotion led to both smaller startle eyeblinks and decreased corrugator activity. Instructions to enhance negative emotion led to larger startle eyeblinks and increased corrugator activity. Several advantages of this experimental manipulation are discussed, including the use of both a suppress and an enhance emotion condition, independent measurement of initial emotion elicitation and subsequent regulation of that emotion, the use of a completely within-subjects design, and the use of naturalistic emotion regulation strategies.
The information processing capacity of the human mind is limited, as is evidenced by the attentional blink-a deficit in identifying the second of two targets (T1 and T2) presented in close succession. This deficit is thought to result from an overinvestment of limited resources in T1 processing. We previously reported that intensive mental training in a style of meditation aimed at reducing elaborate object processing, reduced brain resource allocation to T1, and improved T2 accuracy [Slagter, H. A., Lutz, A., Greischar, L. L., Francis, A. D., Nieuwenhuis, S., Davis, J., et al. Mental training affects distribution of limited brain resources. PloS Biology, 5, e138, 2007]. Here we report EEG spectral analyses to examine the possibility that this reduction in elaborate T1 processing rendered the system more available to process new target information, as indexed by T2-locked phase variability. Intensive mental training was associated with decreased cross-trial variability in the phase of oscillatory theta activity after successfully detected T2s, in particular, for those individuals who showed the greatest reduction in brain resource allocation to T1. These data implicate theta phase locking in conscious target perception, and suggest that after mental training the cognitive system is more rapidly available to process new target information. Mental training was not associated with changes in the amplitude of T2-induced responses or oscillatory activity before task onset. In combination, these findings illustrate the usefulness of systematic mental training in the study of the human mind by revealing the neural mechanisms that enable the brain to successfully represent target information.