Social stimuli increase physiological reactivity but not defensive responses
Emotional reactions are crucial in survival because they provide approach and withdrawal behaviors. However, an unsolved question is whether the social content of the affective stimuli has a specific effect on emotional responses. We studied whether the social content of affective pictures influenced the defensive response and response mobilization. For this purpose, we recorded startle blink reflex (a defensive response) and skin conductance responses (a measure of unspecific physiological reactivity or arousal) in 73 participants while they viewed a series of 81 pictures of varying affective valence and social content. Our results revealed that defense response, as indicated by increases in the magnitude of the startle blink reflex, was mainly dependent on threatening or unpleasant cues, but was unrelated to the social content of the pictures. The social content, however, had an influence on pleasant stimuli, provoking an increase in resource mobilization, as reflected by changes in electrodermal activity. Hence, the social content of the affective stimuli may increase the physiological arousal elicited by pleasant stimuli, and it appears to be unrelated to the defense reactivity provoked by unpleasant stimuli.