Affective modulation of the startle response in depression: influence of the severity of depression, anhedonia, and anxiety

H Kaviani, J A Gray, S A Checkley, P W Raven, G D Wilson, V Kumari

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

145 Citations (Scopus)


Background: The amplitude of the startle reflex response is known to be influenced by the concomitant presentation of affect-toned material-if it is positive affect-toned, the reflex is inhibited, and if it is negative affect-toned, the reflex is augmented. Abundant evidence demonstrates the utility of the affect-startle paradigm as a significant tool for measuring both positive and negative emotions. We applied this paradigm to study emotional reactivity in depression, particularly in relation to symptoms of depression, anhedonia, and anxiety. Methods: Depressed patients (22) and controls (22) were shown a series of film clips, consisting of two clips with positive valence, two with negative valence, and two with relatively neutral valence. The startle response was measured in reaction to the acoustic startle-eliciting stimuli presented three times binaurally during each clip. Results: Highly depressed and anhedonic patients, relative to controls, showed a reduced mood (self-ratings) and a lack of startle modulation in response to affective film clips whereas patients relatively low on depression/anhedonia displayed a reduced mood only with pleasant clips and a normal pattern of affective startle modulation. Anhedonia and depression were highly positively correlated but neither correlated with anxiety. Anxious patients displayed larger reflexes across all clips and showed a reduced mood modulation with pleasant, but not unpleasant, clips. Limitations: The large majority of patients was medicated with antidepressants which may have influenced the results. Conclusions: Reactivity to pleasant stimuli is diminished in patients suffering from low levels of depression and/or anhedonia, but reactivity even to unpleasant stimuli seems compromised at high levels of depression and/or anhedonia. Anxiety is associated with hyperstartle responding. (C) 2004 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)21 - 31
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Affective Disorders
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 15 Nov 2004


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