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Stress. 2012 Jan;15(1):31-44. doi: 10.3109/10253890.2011.578184. Epub 2011 Jul 26.

Behaviorally inhibited temperament is associated with severity of post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms and faster eyeblink conditioning in veterans.

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  • 1Department of Veterans Affairs, VA New Jersey Health Care System, East Orange, NJ 07108, USA.


Prior studies have sometimes demonstrated facilitated acquisition of classically conditioned responses and/or resistance to extinction in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, it is unclear whether these behaviors are acquired as a result of PTSD or exposure to trauma, or reflect preexisting risk factors that confer vulnerability for PTSD. Here, we examined classical eyeblink conditioning and extinction in veterans self-assessed for current PTSD symptoms, exposure to combat, and the personality trait of behavioral inhibition (BI), a risk factor for PTSD. A total of 128 veterans were recruited (mean age 51.2 years; 13.3% female); 126 completed self-assessment, with 25.4% reporting a history of exposure to combat and 30.9% reporting current, severe PTSD symptoms (PTSS). The severity of PTSS was correlated with current BI (R(2) = 0.497) and PTSS status could be predicted based on current BI and combat history (80.2% correct classification). A subset of the veterans (n = 87) also completed the eyeblink conditioning study. Among veterans without PTSS, childhood BI was associated with faster acquisition; veterans with PTSS showed delayed extinction, under some conditions. These data demonstrate a relationship between current BI and PTSS, and indicate that the facilitated conditioning sometimes observed in patients with PTSD may partially reflect personality traits such as childhood BI that pre-date and contribute to vulnerability for PTSD.

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