Anger and aggression problems in veterans are associated with an increased acoustic startle reflex

L Heesink, Rolf Kleber, Michael Häfner, Laury van Bedaf, Iris Eekhout, Elbert Geuze

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Anger and aggression are frequent problems in deployed military personnel. A lowered threshold of perceiving and responding to threat can trigger impulsive aggression. This can be indicated by an exaggerated startle response. Fifty-two veterans with anger and aggression problems (Anger group) and 50 control veterans were tested using a startle experiment with 10 startle probes and 10 prepulse trials, presented in a random order and with a random interval between the trials. Predictors (demographics, Trait Anger, State Anger, Harm Avoidance and Anxious Arousal) for the startle response within the Anger group were tested. Increased EMG responses were found to the startle probes in the Anger Group compared to the Control group, but not to the prepulse trials. Furthermore, Harm Avoidance and State Anger predicted the increased startle reflex within the Anger group, whereas Trait Anger was negatively related to the startle reflex. These findings indicate that threat reactivity is increased in anger and aggression problems. These problems are not only caused by an anxious predisposition, the degree of anger also predicts the startle reflex.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)119-125
Number of pages7
JournalBiological Psychology
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2017


  • Aggression
  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Military
  • Startle
  • Veterans


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