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Affect modulated startle in schizophrenia: Subjective experience matters

Psychiatry Research
DOI: 10.1016/j.psychres.2014.06.028
  • Emotion
  • Reactivity
  • Startle Reflex
  • Psychosis
  • Self-Report
  • Psychophysiology
  • Symptoms


Abstract Data suggests that emotion reactivity as measured by the affect-modulated startle paradigm in those with schizophrenia (SZ) may be similar to healthy controls (HC). However, normative classification of the stimuli may not accurately reflect emotional experience, especially for those with SZ. To examine this possibility, the present study measured the affect-modulated startle response with images classified according to both normative and subjective ratings. Seventeen HC and 17 SZ completed an image viewing task during which startle probes were presented, followed by subjective valence and arousal ratings. Both groups exhibited inhibited startle responses to positive images, intermediate startle amplitudes to neutral images, and potentiated startle amplitudes to negative images. SZ rated the positive images as less positive than HC. When images were reclassified based on subjective valence ratings, both groups’ startle magnitudes increased in response to subjectively rated positive images and decreased to subjectively rated neutral images. The number of trials classified into each valence condition suggested a tendency for SZ to classify neutral images as negative more often than HC. Overall, these findings suggest that affective stimuli modulate the startle response in HC and SZ in similar ways, but subjective emotional experience may differ in those with schizophrenia.

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