Emotional modulation of the startle reflex in twins: Preliminary findings

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This study investigated twin similarity in general startle reflex reactivity and emotional modulation. Seventeen monozygotic (MZ) and 12 dizygotic (DZ) male twin pairs received startling acoustic stimuli while viewing emotionally positive, negative and neutral slides. Electromyographic (EMG) responses were recorded from the orbicularis oculi. Members of MZ twin pairs had similar response amplitudes under all three valence conditions. In addition, modulation scores for the positive and negative conditions, representing the percent change in response amplitude between the affective and the neutral conditions, also showed significant similarity within MZ twin pairs. Overall, members of DZ twin pairs were not found to be significantly similar on any of the measures. These preliminary findings suggest that emotional modulation of the startle reflex shows familial resemblance within MZ pairs. Given the lack of resemblance between DZ twins, it is tentatively suggested that affective modulation may be under partial genetic control.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)235-246
Number of pages12
JournalBiological Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Oct 10 1997

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (DA 05147) and the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (AA 00175). The authors thank Kevin Haroian for developing the stimulus presentation, data collection, and EMG scoring software used. We are also grateful to Christopher Patrick for technical assistance in implementing the startle procedure and to Peter Lang for providing us with access to the International Affective Picture System.


  • Affect
  • Blink reflex modification
  • Electromyography
  • Emotion
  • Startle
  • Twin studies


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