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J Abnorm Psychol. 2000 Feb;109(1):26-39.

Emotional processing in posttraumatic stress disorder.

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National Center for PTSD, Boston Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Massachusetts 02130, USA.


The emotional deficits associated with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are the least understood and the most understudied aspect of the syndrome. In this study, the connection was evaluated between trauma-context reactivity and subsequent emotional deficits in PTSD. Combat veterans with PTSD and well-adjusted veteran control participants were exposed to reminders of combat, after which their emotional behavior was assessed in response to a series of emotionally evocative images. Under the neutral condition, both groups exhibited emotional behavior modulated by stimulus valence. Partially consistent with the conceptual model described by B. Litz (1992), the PTSD group exhibited suppressed expressive-motor responses to positively valenced images, in comparison with the control group, only after being exposed to a trauma-related prime. Contrary to expectations, the PTSD group showed no augmentation of emotional response to negatively valenced cues after being exposed to trauma reminders. However, the PTSD group responded to all images, in both prime conditions, with higher heart rate reactivity, suggesting an automatic preparation for demand or threat in any uncertain emotional context. Possible causes and consequences of these results are discussed.

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