Affective Modulation of the Startle Reflex Is an Ineffective Methodology to Examine Depression-Linked Interpretative Biases

Download Download as PDF (Size:147KB)  HTML    PP. 486-491  
DOI: 10.4236/psych.2011.25075    3,139 Downloads   5,454 Views   Citations


Cognitive theory predicts that depression is associated with a bias to interpret ambiguous information in a mood-congruent fashion. This negative interpretative bias may serve as a maintenance factor for the continuation of a depressed mood state. The majority of studies investigating such interpretative biases suffer from a variety of methodological problems. This research has utilized an objective physiological measure involving the affective modulation of the human eye blink reflex in 25 depressed and 25 control subjects by depressive, depressive-ambiguous, and distorted stimuli. Almost half of the depressed subjects suffered from a comorbid anxiety disorder. In contrast to previous research utilizing the same methodology, depressed participants did not react differently to non-depressed participants in terms of their blink reflex response to the various stimuli types. This outcome is ascribed to the exclusion of anxiety-related stimuli in the current study. Depression-related stimuli failed to augment blink amplitudes in both subject groups. Therefore, affective modulation of the startle reflex is an ineffective methodology for the detection of depression-linked interpretative biases, as there is no difference to how individuals react to depressive and neutral stimuli. In this study, patients diagnosed with social anxiety disorder reacted to difficult-to-identify stimuli with augmented blink amplitudes, interpreted as an anxiety response.

Cite this paper

Goggin, L. , Martin-Iverson, M. & Nathan, P. (2011). Affective Modulation of the Startle Reflex Is an Ineffective Methodology to Examine Depression-Linked Interpretative Biases. Psychology, 2, 486-491. doi: 10.4236/psych.2011.25075.


[1] American Psychological Association (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
[2] Beck, A. T. (1967). Depression: Clinical, experimental and theoretical aspects. New York, NY: Harper & Row.
[3] Beck, A. T. (1976). Cognitive therapy and the emotional disorders. New York, NY: International Universities Press.
[4] Beck, A. T., Steer, R. A., & Brown, G. K. (1996). Depression Inventory-Manual (2nd ed.). San Antonio: The Psychological Corporation.
[5] Bradley, M. M., Codispoti, M., Cuthbert, B. N., & Lang, P. J. (2001). Emotion and motivation I: Defensive and appetitive reactions in picture processing. Emotion, 1, 276-298. doi:10.1037/1528-3542.1.3.276
[6] Clark, D. M., & Teasdale, J. D. (1985). Diurnal variation in clinical depression and accessibility of memories of positive and negative experiences. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 91, 87-95. doi:10.1037/0021-843X.91.2.87
[7] Gotlib, I. H. (1983). Perception and recall of interpersonal feedback: Negative bias in depression. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 7, 399-412. doi:10.1007/BF01187168
[8] Kreibig, S. D., Wilhelm, F. H., Roth, W. T., & Gross, J. J. (2011). Affective modulation of the acoustic startle: Does sadness engage the defensive system? Biological Psychiatry, 87, 161-163. doi:10.1016/j.biopsycho.2011.02.008
[9] Lang, P. J., Bradley, M. M., & Cuthbert, B. C. (1992). A motivational analysis of emotion: Reflex-cortex connections. Psychological Science, 3, 44-49. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.1992.tb00255.x
[10] Lawson, C., MacLeod, C., & Hammond, G. (2002). Interpretation revealed in the blink of an eye: Depressive bias in the resolution of ambiguity. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 111, 321-328. doi:10.1037/0021-843X.111.2.321
[11] MacLeod, C., & Mathews, A. (1991). Cognitive-experimental app- roaches to the emotional disorders. In P. R. Martin (Ed.), Handbook of behaviour therapy and psychological science: An integrative approach (pp. 116-150). New York, NY: Pergamon.
[12] Nunn, J. D., Mathews, A., & Trower, P. (1997). Selective processing of concern-related information in depression. British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 36, 489-503. doi:10.1111/j.2044-8260.1997.tb01256.x
[13] Sabatinelli, D., Bradley, M. M., & Lang, P. J. (2001). Affective startle modulation in anticipation and perception. Psychophysiology, 38, 719-722. doi:10.1111/1469-8986.3840719
[14] Vestre, N. D., & Caulfield, B. P. (1986). Perception of neutral person
[15] ality descriptions by depressed and nondepressed subjects. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 10, 31-36. doi:10.1007/BF01173380
[16] Vrana, S. R., Spence, E. L., & Lang, P .J. (1988). The startle probe response: A new measure of emotion? Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 97, 487-491. doi:10.1037/0021-843X.97.4.487
[17] Watkins, J. T., & Rush, A. J. (1983). Cognitive response test. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 7, 425-436. doi:10.1007/BF01187170
[18] Williams, J. M. G., & Broadbent, K. (1986). Autobiographical memory in suicide attempters. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 95, 144-149. doi:10.1037/0021-843X.95.2.144

comments powered by Disqus

Copyright © 2017 by authors and Scientific Research Publishing Inc.

Creative Commons License

This work and the related PDF file are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.