Startle responding in the context of visceral pain

Erik Ceunen, Jonas Zaman, Natacha Herssens, Lukas Van Oudenhove, Katleen Bogaerts, Huynh Giao Ly, Steven J. Coen, Jan Tack, Johan W. S. Vlaeyen, Ilse Van Diest*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


This study aimed to investigate affective modulation of eye blink startle by aversive visceral stimulation. Startle blink EMG responses were measured in 31 healthy participants receiving painful, intermittent balloon distentions in the distal esophagus during 4 blocks (positive, negative, neutral or no pictures), and compared with startles during 3 'safe' blocks without esophageal stimulations (positive, negative or neutral emotional pictures). Women showed enhanced startle during blocks with distentions (as compared with 'safe' blocks), both when the balloon was in inflated and deflated states, suggesting that fear and/or expectations may have played a role. Men's startle did not differ between distention and non-distention blocks. In this particular study context affective picture viewing did not further impose any effect on startle eye blink responses. The current results may contribute to a better understanding of emotional reactions to aversive interoceptive stimulation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)128-134
JournalInternational Journal of Psychophysiology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2015


  • Mechanical esophageal stimulation
  • Visceral pain
  • Startle
  • Gender differences


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