Probing Prejudice with Startle Eyeblink Modification: A Marker of Attention, Emotion, or Both?
In social neuroscience research, startle eyeblink modification can serve as a marker of emotion, but it is less clear whether it can also serve as a marker of prejudice. In Experiment 1, 30 White students viewed photographs of White and Black targets while the startle eyeblink reflex and facial EMG from the brow and cheek regions were recorded. Prejudice was related to facial EMG activity, but not to startle modification, which instead appeared to index attention to race. To test further whether racial categorizations are associated with differential attention, a dual-task paradigm was used in Experiment 2. Fifty-four White and fifty-five Black participants responded more slowly to a tone presented when viewing a racial outgroup member or a negative stimulus, indicating that both draw more attention than ingroup members or positive stimuli. We conclude that startle modification is useful to index differential attention to groups when intergroup threat is low.