Bradford, D. E., Starr, M. J., Shackman, A. J. & Curtin, J. J. (in press) Empirically based comparisons of the reliability and validity of common quantification approaches for eyeblink startle potentiation in humans. Psychophysiology.
Startle potentiation is a well-validated translational measure of negative affect. Startle potentiation is widely used in clinical and affective science, and there are multiple approaches for its quantification. The three most commonly used approaches quantify startle potentiation as the increase in startle response from a neutral to threat condition based on (1) raw potentiation, (2) standardized potentiation, or (3) percent-change potentiation. These three quantification approaches may yield qualitatively different conclusions about effects of independent variables (IVs) on affect when within- or between-group differences exist for startle response in the neutral condition. Accordingly, we directly compared these quantification approaches in a shock-threat task using four IVs known to influence startle response in the no-threat condition: probe intensity, time (i.e., habituation), alcohol administration, and individual differences in general startle reactivity measured at baseline. We confirmed the expected effects of time, alcohol, and general startle reactivity on affect using self-reported fear/anxiety as a criterion. The percent-change approach displayed apparent artifact across all four IVs, which raises substantial concerns about its validity. Both raw and standardized potentiation approaches were stable across probe intensity and time, which supports their validity. However, only raw potentiation displayed effects that were consistent with a priori specifications and/or the self-report criterion for the effects of alcohol and general startle reactivity. Supplemental analyses of reliability and validity for each approach provided additional evidence in support of raw potentiation.