PTSD in Sexual Trauma Victims
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Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) identifies a traumatic or catastrophic event that marks the origin of a specific condition, as well as symptoms that are directly related to the event. The present study aims to experimentally examine mechanisms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in women and predisposition for anxiety in response to “everyday life” stressors among both women who have and have not experienced trauma. We hypothesized that individuals who have experienced trauma will have significantly different affective responses to trauma-related stressors, and will have more difficulty recalling general information presented due to avoidance and stress if they are subjected to trauma-related material. Participants read four mock newspaper articles, including neutral articles, a trauma condition article, and a control article (dental pain) under the pretense that they would be asked to recall information afterwards. Dental pain was chosen to control for potential unpleasant or upsetting feelings that may have arisen from reading the sexual assault article, akin to the use of the same stimulus themes for control conditions in Terror Management research (Arndt, Greenburg, Schimel, Pyszczynski & Solomon, 2002; Peters, Greenburg, Williams & Schneider, 2005). The participants also completed survey materials, including PCL-C, PANAS-X, and LEC-5 in order to assess affect and likelihood of PTSD. A total of 43 undergraduate women participated in the study, in which 14% of the participant’s scores on the PCL-C and LEC-5 indicated that they had experienced sexual trauma, and 86% indicated that they did not experience sexual trauma. The condition the participants were assigned to (dental pain or sexual trauma) had no significance on negative affect (p=0. 83). However, the PCL-C scores were significant and positive (p=0.001), so those with more trauma history also had more negative affect, regardless of the condition to which they were assigned. In addition, the interaction between condition and the PCL-C scores was also significant, indicating that there was a relationship between more trauma experience and more negative affect in the trauma condition. Those who had a significant level of trauma did not appear more affected by the trauma related article than those who had no trauma experiences. However, they did have more negative affect regardless of whether it was in response to the dental pain condition or the sexual trauma condition. The data show that level of trauma experienced does not inhibit the ability to recall information when subjected to everyday levels of stress, such as reading a newspaper article that reminds one of trauma. Thus, daily life stressors that remind individuals of trauma do not significantly impact their negative affect or induce enough stress to impair cognitive function, and the null hypothesis failed to be rejected. The results gathered from this experiment could testify against the validity of the clinical lore that PTSD patients are extremely sensitive to the reminders of their trauma (Stoll et al., 1999).