Reflecting on core personal values is a common means of self-affirmation that can change how a person responds to threatening events. Specifically, self-affirmation has been found to reduce psychological defenses against self-esteem threats. The current research examined the effects of self-affirmation on more basic reflexive mechanisms of motivation and emotion. The startle-eyeblink response is a defensive reflex that can be elicited by loud bursts of noise and is potentiated in the presence of threatening stimuli. Individual differences in anxiety-related traits, including behavioral inhibition-system (BIS) sensitivity, predict the magnitude of threat-potentiated startle responses, such that higher BIS sensitivity corresponds with more intense responses to threatening stimuli. The current experiment (N = 100) tested the hypothesis that affirming a core personal value breaks the link between BIS sensitivity and threat responsiveness. We measured individual differences in BIS, manipulated the opportunity for self-affirmation, and assessed eyeblink responses to startle probes during negative, neutral, and positive emotional picture viewing. In the no-affirmation condition, BIS sensitivity predicted the magnitude of startle-eyeblink responses during negative pictures, consistent with previous research. In the self-affirmation condition, the relationship between BIS sensitivity and threat-potentiated startle responding was eliminated. This finding suggests that self-affirmation's effects extend beyond self-esteem defenses to influence basic defensive reflexes in threat-prone individuals. (PsycINFO Database Record
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