Affective Reactions to Images in Anxious Children

Article excerpt


In a paradigm of a three-dimensioned (valence, arousal, dominance) affective space, the aim of the present study was to extend the use of picture rating methodology to primary school children and to outline the specifics of affective reactions in anxious children. Self-report measures of emotional reactions evoked by emotion-eliciting IAPS (International Affective Pictures System, Lang, Bradley & Cuthbert, 2005) stimuli were administered to anxious (N = 90) and non-anxious (N = 97) children, aged 7-10 years. Results confirmed that IAPS pictures of varying valence and arousal elicit the same patterns of subjective responses as in normal adults. It was hypothesized that anxiety would be associated with ratings of more negative valence, higher arousal and lower dominance of the emotioneliciting pictorial stimuli. The results supported our hypothesis only partially. Only positive IAPS pictures could differentiate between children with and without symptoms of anxiety. The intensity of reactions did not differentiate between anxious and non-anxious children, but anxious children under evaluated to valence of positive stimuli as well as their own resources to face these positively valenced stimuli.

Keywords: affective space, emotion-eliciting stimuli, IAPS, biphasic motivation, anxiety disorders


Osgood's semantic differential theory of emotion (Osgood, Suci, & Tanenbaum, 1957) identifies three basic parameters of emotional states. This view posits that every emotional state can be described by two primary dimensions, hedonic valence (unpleasant-pleasant) and arousal (calm, excited), and a third less-strongly related dimension, dominance or control (in controldominated).

Affective valence and arousal can be represented in a bidimensional framework. Each stimulus in this framework, called the affective space, is characterized by the average scores of the two affective dimensions (Lang, 1994). The reliability of locating stimuli in this framework indicates that the concept of affective space is viable. Several researchers have reported that the affective space is shaped as a "boomerang" if valence is dimensioned on the Y axis or U shaped if valence is plotted on the X axis. Research data supports a quadratic relationship between the pleasure and arousal dimensions, meaning that the intensity of emotional reaction varies with the growth or decrease of stimulus valence. Neutral stimuli are associated with decreased arousal (Bradley & Lang, 2005).

Lang, Bradley and Cuthbert (2005) consider that the association between valence and arousal can be interpreted in terms of motivation and motivated action. Starting from Bower's (1981) network theory and based on linear regression, the authors posit that the valence and intensity of emotional reactions reflect activation levels in the primary motivational systems of the brain, the appetitive and aversive systems. The appetitive motivational system is expressed in approach motivation, attitude and behavior while the aversive motivational system expresses itself in avoidance motivation, avoidance attitude and behavior, abandon, escape or attack. Approach motivation is activated by intense pleasant affective states; avoidance motivation is evoked by intense unpleasant affective experience. The biphasic motivation paradigm posits that different affective states represent different levels of activation in the appetitive and aversive motivational systems (Cacioppo & Berntson, 1994; Lang, Bradley, & Cuthbert, 1990; Lang, 1995). Through this framework of biphasic motivation, the affective space offers a complex image of the assembly of motivational forces that govern human behaviour. In spite of the fact that human reactions are not exclusively regulated by the triggering stimuli, the basic dimensions of direction (approach or avoidance) and intensity are fundamental in determining the reaction (Bradley & Lang, 2006). …