Does approach-related anger attenuate eyeblink startle? An examination of the motivational properties of anger

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Approach-related anger, Eyeblink startle, Emotion, Anger, Psychophysiology, Startle reflex modulation

Subject Categories

Clinical Psychology | Psychology | Social and Behavioral Sciences


Anger, despite its negative valence, is frequently associated with approach motivation. Research shows that engagement of the approach motivational system yields attenuation of the defensive startle reflex. Thus, approach-related anger should be associated with attenuated startle. To test this prediction, 61 undergraduates who varied with respect to concern for animal welfare viewed 48 pictures, six of which depicted scenes of animal harm. Physiological (startle), self-report (emotional ratings of pictures), and behavioral (free viewing time) data were collected. Results of self-report analyses indicated that the animal harm pictures were effective in eliciting anger among participants highest in animal concern. Free viewing time analyses revealed that animal concern did not predict the amount of time participants spent viewing animal harm pictures in a free viewing period. The startle data showed that, contrary to predictions, animal concern did not predict startle magnitude during viewing of animal harm pictures. Exploratory analyses uncovered one potentially noteworthy finding concerning a link between trait hostility and overall startle magnitude. The fate of the hypothesis that anger should attenuate startle will rest upon the results of subsequent research that systematically evaluates numerous plausible explanations for the present null results.