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Behav Res Ther. 1999 Sep;37(9):809-29.

Cognitive factors involved in the onset and maintenance of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after physical or sexual assault.

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Department of Psychology, University of Surrey, Guildford, UK.


Cognitive factors hypothesised to influence the development and maintenance of PTSD were investigated. 92 assault victims completed questionnaires assessing a range of cognitive variables. Factors relating to onset of PTSD were investigated by comparing victims who did and who did not suffer PTSD. Factors relating to maintenance of PTSD were investigated by comparing victims who had recovered from PTSD with victims who had persistent PTSD. Cognitive factors associated with both onset and maintenance of PTSD were: appraisal of aspects of the assault itself (mental defeat, mental confusion, appraisal of emotions); appraisal of the sequelae of the assault (appraisal of symptoms, perceived negative responses of others, permanent change); dysfunctional strategies (avoidance/safety seeking) and global beliefs impacted by assault. Cognitive factors that were associated only with the onset of PTSD were: detachment during assault; failure to perceive positive responses from others and mental undoing. Relationships between the cognitive variables and PTSD remained significant when variations in perceived and objective assault severity were statistically controlled. The cognitive factors identified in the study may contribute to PTSD directly, by generating a sense of ongoing threat, or indirectly, by motivating cognitive and behavioural strategies that prevent recovery, or by affecting the nature of the traumatic memory.

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