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J Abnorm Psychol. 2004 Aug;113(3):451-63.

Emotional-processing in posttraumatic stress disorder II: startle reflex modulation during picture processing.

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  • 1National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Veterans Affairs Boston Healthcare System, Boston, MA 02130, USA.


This study examined the impact of a trauma-related stressor on subsequent emotional behavior in veterans with (n = 35) and without (n = 24) posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Self-report and physiological responses, including acoustic startle, were recorded during viewing of emotionally evocative photographs at baseline and following exposure to trauma-related and non-trauma-related stressors. The 2 groups exhibited equivalent patterns of emotional response across self-report and physiological measures at baseline. In contrast, following the trauma challenge, participants with PTSD showed a pattern of startle modulation suggestive of greater defensive reactivity and reduced visual perceptual engagement. These findings, along with augmented corrugator EMG reactivity during the same interval, suggest that trauma-related reexperiencing primes subsequent negative emotional responding in individuals with PTSD.

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