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J Trauma Stress. 2003 Oct;16(5):471-9.

Fear-potentiated startle and posttraumatic stress symptoms in urban police officers.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, University of California, San Francisco, USA.


We studied the effects of increasing threat conditions on self-reported emotion, eyeblink electromyogram, and skin conductance responses to startling sounds in 55 police officers who endorsed a range of PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder) symptoms. We found that contextual threat affected both physiologic and self-reported emotional responses. Greater PTSD symptom severity was related to greater physiologic responses under the low and medium but not under the high threat condition. The relationship between PTSD symptoms and physiologic responses was neither explained by self-reported emotional responses nor preexisting reported exaggerated startle symptoms. Our results emphasize the importance of contextual threat and suggest that laboratory measures of startle improve upon self-reported exaggerated startle alone in indexing PTSD symptom severity in urban police officers.

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