Influence of postural threat on postural responses to aversive visual stimuli

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Abstract

Recent research has shown that emotion influences postural control. The objective of the present study was to establish whether or not postural threat influences postural and physiological responses to aversive visual stimuli. In order to investigate the coupling between emotional reactions, motivated behavior and postural responses, we studied the displacement of the subject's center of pressure (COP) and the changes in electrodermal activity (EDA), heart rate (HR) and postural muscle activation. Thirty-two participants (15 males, 17 females; mean ± SD age: 21.4 ± 2.3) viewed affective and neutral pictures while standing still on a force platform in the presence or absence of postural threat. The HR and EDA data revealed that the emotional state varied as a function of the postural condition. The mean displacement in the anteroposterior (AP) axis was more rearwards in response to aversive stimuli that in response to neutral stimuli, in both the absence of postural threat (−0.65 mm and +0.90 mm for aversive and neutral stimuli, respectively) and the presence of postural threat (−0.00 mm vs. +0.89 mm, respectively). An aversive stimulus was associated with a shorter AP COP sway path than a neutral stimulus in the presence of a postural threat (167.26 mm vs. 174.66 mm for aversive and neutral stimuli, respectively) but not in the latter's absence (155.85 mm vs. 154.48 mm, respectively). Our results evidenced withdrawal behavior in response to an aversive stimulus (relative to a neutral stimulus) in the absence of postural threat. Withdrawal behavior was attenuated (but nevertheless active) in the presence of a postural threat.

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