University of Jyväskylä

Dissertation: 14 Mar 2015 To Approach or to Avoid? Effects of Emotional Picture Viewing on Reflexive Responses in Humans

Start date: Mar 14, 2015 12:00 PM

End date: Mar 14, 2015 03:00 PM

Location: Mattilanniemi, Agora, Alfa

Suvi KarlaM.A. Suvi Karla defends her doctoral dissertation in Psychology ”To Approach or to Avoid? Effects of Emotional Picture Viewing on Reflexive Responses in Humans”. Opponent Professor Magne Arve Flaten (Norwegian University of Science and Technology) and custos Adjunct Professor Jan Wikgren (University of Jyväskylä).

The event is in English.

The motivational priming theory implies that emotions engage sensory systems in reflexive level and thus direct attention as well as prepare individuals for action, i.e. to approach or to avoid. This research examined the effects of emotional modulation on, in addition to defensive reflexive responses, responses which can be seen as protective but not reflexive or reflexive but not protective. Thus the aim was to test the generality of the motivational priming theory by extending its scope also to non-defensive and voluntary reactions. Emotional modulation was carried out by emotional picture viewing. The main research focus was to examine the eyeblink response, which, can in general be regarded as an inherently protective response. As a control phenomenon, the effect of emotional modulation was also tested on a reflexive action considered non-defensive, that is, an electrically induced motor response that is known to involve a cortical contribution.

In the first study, the effects of emotional state on classically conditioned eyeblinks were studied. The results indicated that the defensively motivated behavior, even when not reflexive but learned, was modified by emotional valence. In the second study, the effect of emotional state on reflexive and voluntarily generated eyeblink responses was examined. The results showed that only reflexive, not voluntary eyeblinks, were augmented by unpleasant emotional state. In the third study, the non-defensive motor responses (cutaneo-muscular response, CMR) were measured. The responses were also, not expectedly, augmented during the viewing of unpleasant pictures.

To conclude, in unpleasant state, reflexive responses were augmented, irrespective of whether they were inherently defensive or not, whereas voluntary actions were not sensitive to emotional modulation in the same manner as reflexive actions. It seems that motivational priming effect is more straightforward on protective, reflexive behavior. That is, when we are not consciously attending or voluntarily performing our actions. It is also important that should the emotional modulation occur, the time between the stimulus and response is important – as it grows, the effect of emotional modulation diminishes. In addition, the behavioral response needs to have a direction - we need to approach or avoid something.

Keywords: EMG, emotional modulation, motivational priming, reflexive responses, humans

The dissertation will be published in the series Jyväskylä Studies in Education, Psychology and Social Research Jyväskylä Studies in Education, Psychology and Social Research, 519. ISSN 0075-4625; 519; ISBN 978-951-39-6106-0 (nid.); ISBN 978-951-39-6107-7 (PDF).


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Suvi Karla
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