Anxiety and defensiveness: Individual differences in affective startle modulation

Academic Article


  • Anxious individuals selectively attend to threatening information, and defensiveness may influence the experience and expression of anxiety. Fifty-eight undergraduates scoring high and low on measures of anxiety and defensiveness viewed pleasant, neutral, and unpleasant pictures. Acoustic startle probes were presented 60, 240, or 2,000 ms after picture onset. At 60 ms and 240 ms, repressors (low anxiety, high defensiveness) showed weaker blinks during both pleasant and unpleasant compared to neutral pictures, suggesting enhanced early attention to affective stimuli, regardless of valence. At 2,000 ms, high-anxious but not low anxious participants showed potentiated startle responses during unpleasant compared to pleasant pictures. Although this result replicated previous research on anxiety and valence modulation of startle, exploratory analyses suggested that the valence effect was restricted to trait anxious individuals tending toward a defensive coping style. Across probe conditions, defensiveness was associated with heightened startle reactivity independent of self-reported anxiety and foreground stimulus characteristics. © Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2007.
  • Authors

    Published In

    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Temple RO; Cook EW
  • Start Page

  • 115
  • End Page

  • 123
  • Volume

  • 31
  • Issue

  • 2