Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Erin C. Tully, PhD

Second Advisor

Erin Tone, PhD

Third Advisor

Akihiko Masuda, PhD


Research supports varied patterns of emotion-modulated startle (EMS) reactivity among depressed individuals. The purpose of this study was to examine whether these varied patterns can be explained by depression, empathic tendencies, and emotional stimuli. The EMS paradigm is a well-validated measure of emotion-modulated reactivity in which the magnitude of startle reflexes in reaction to acoustic stimuli are recorded while participants view pleasant, neutral, and negative images (Lang, Bradley, & Cuthbert, 1990). Young adults (N = 120; Mage = 19.54, SD = 1.41; 75% female) completed self-report rating scales of depression symptoms and cognitive and affective empathic tendencies and the EMS paradigm. Individuals with low depression, regardless of their cognitive (hp2 = .44 and .47) and affective empathic tendencies (hp2 = .49 and .36), and individuals with high depression and high cognitive and affective empathic tendencies (hp2 = .23, .46, respectively) exhibited the typical linear EMS reactivity pattern of increasing startle reflex magnitude from pleasant to neutral to unpleasant images. In contrast, individuals with high depression along with low cognitive and affective empathic tendencies exhibited blunted EMS reactivity patterns (hp2 = .000, .04, respectively). These findings indicate blunted EMS reactivity patterns only in depressed individuals who have low cognitive and affective empathic tendencies and are likely disengaged from emotional stimuli, thus suggesting variability among depressed individuals in motivational states that prime or inhibit the startle reflex.