Abstract The respiratory behavior during affective states is not completely understood. We studied breathing pattern responses to picture series in 37 participants. We also measured end-tidal pCO 2 (EtCO 2) to determine if ventilation is in balance with metabolic demands and spontaneous eye-blinking to investigate the link between respiration and attention. Minute ventilation (MV) and inspiratory drive increased with self-rated arousal. These relationships reflected increases in inspiratory volume rather than shortening of the time parameters. EtCO 2 covaried with pleasantness but not arousal. Eye-blink rate decreased with increasing unpleasantness in line with a negativity bias in attention. This study confirms that respiratory responses to affective stimuli are organized to a certain degree along the dimensions of valence and arousal. It shows, for the first time, that during picture viewing, ventilatory increases with increasing arousal are in balance with metabolic activity and that inspiratory volume is modulated by arousal. MV emerges as the most reliable respiratory index of self-perceived arousal.