Psychology, Department of


Date of this Version

June 1979


Published in Motivation and Emotion, Vol. 3, No.2 (1979), pp. 201–218. Copyright © 1979 Plenum Publishing Corporation/Springer Verlag. Used by permission.


To study the impact of startle-induced arousal on attraction, blindfolded subjects in a “vestibular function” study were startled by a loud noise accompanying the sudden backward tilt of the dental chair in which they were seated. In Study I startled male subjects indicated (on a “postexperimental” questionnaire) greater attraction toward a pretty female experimenter than did control subjects. Study II demonstrated the reverse, with startled male subjects disliking a male experimenter more than controls. In Study III, female subjects startled by a male experimenter indicated greater attraction than controls, although the pattern of their responses differed from males. While an attempt to induce misattribution of arousal to a (placebo) pill (Study IV) or to a noise (Study V) with “arousal” side effects resulted in negligible attenuation effects on the startle-attraction relationship, in Study VI the imposition of a delay period between startle and experimenter ratings resulted in reduced ratings of attraction. The role of arousal in romantic attraction is briefly discussed, and the relevance of these data to theories of emotion is considered