Unpleasant Pictures Exposure Evokes Different Repercussion on Emotional State and Heart Rate Response in Healthy Women and Men

Appl Psychophysiol Biofeedback. 2022 Jun;47(2):85-94. doi: 10.1007/s10484-021-09532-0.


To evaluate the heart rate response, emotion and changes in anxiety and anger levels after exposure to unpleasant pictures from the International Assessment Pictures System (IAPS) compared with neutral picture exposure in healthy individuals. Forty participants (23 women) visited the laboratory on two occasions. State anger and state anxiety levels were evaluated pre- and post-visualization of a set of IAPS pictures and heart rate was monitored during exposure. Two different picture sets were utilized-one with neutral pictures (that served as the control) and the other with unpleasant pictures. State anxiety and state anger were higher in post-unpleasant session for women than before (p < 0.001). For men, only state anxiety was higher in the post-unpleasant session (p < 0.001). State anxiety (p = 0.004) and state anger (p < 0.001) post-unpleasant session was higher for women than in men. The pleasure and dominance domains were lower in the unpleasant session for both men and women (p < 0.001), and the arousal domain was higher for both men and women (p < 0.001) than in the neutral session. In the unpleasant session, arousal was higher (p = 0.004), and dominance was lower (p < 0.001) among women than among men, but no difference in pleasure was found (p > 0.05). For women, average heart rate was higher on unpleasant session, compared to neutral (p = 0.01), but not for men (p > 0.05). Women are more sensitive and react strongly to unpleasant picture exposure. The IAPS unpleasant session was not able to induce anger levels in men.

Keywords: Anger; Anxiety; Behavior; Emotion; Psychological; Sex differences.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Arousal* / physiology
  • Emotions* / physiology
  • Female
  • Heart Rate
  • Humans
  • Male