Journal Article

Sensitivity towards Fear of Electric Shock in Passive Threat Situations


  • Ring
  • P.
  • Kaernbach
  • C.

Human judgment and decision-making (JDM) requires an assessment of different choice options. While traditional theories of choice argue that cognitive processes are the main driver to reach a decision, growing evidence highlights the importance of emotion in decision-making. Following these findings, it appears relevant to understand how individuals asses the attractiveness or riskiness of a situation in terms of emotional processes. The following study aims at a better understanding of the psychophysiological mechanisms underlying threat sensitivity by measuring skin conductance responses (SCRs) in passive threat situations. While previous studies demonstrate the role of magnitude on emotional body reactions preceding an outcome, this study focuses on probability. In order to analyze emotional body reactions preceding negative events with varying probability of occurrence, we have our participants play a two-stage card game. The first stage of the card game reveals the probability of receiving an unpleasant electric shock. The second stage applies the electric shock with the previously announced probability. For the analysis, we focus on the time interval between the first and second stage. We observe a linear relation between SCRs in anticipation of receiving an electric shock and shock probability. This finding indicates that SCRs are able to code the likelihood of negative events. We outline how this coding function of SCRs during the anticipation of negative events might add to an understanding of human JDM.

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