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J Trauma Stress. 2011 Oct;24(5):538-45. doi: 10.1002/jts.20678. Epub 2011 Aug 31.

Alterations in affective processing of attack images following September 11, 2001.

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Department of Psychology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109, USA.


The events of September 11, 2001 created unprecedented uncertainty about safety in the United States and created an aftermath with significant psychological impact across the world. This study examined emotional information encoding in 31 healthy individuals whose stress response symptoms ranged from none to a moderate level shortly after the attacks as assessed by the Impact of Event Scale-Revised. Participants viewed attack-related, negative (but attack-irrelevant), and neutral images while their event-related brain potentials (ERPs) were recorded. Attack images elicited enhanced P300 relative to negative and neutral images, and emotional images prompted larger slow waves than neutral images did. Total symptoms were correlated with altered N2, P300, and slow wave responses during valence processing. Specifically, hyperarousal and intrusion symptoms were associated with diminished stimulus discrimination between neutral and unpleasant images; avoidance symptoms were associated with hypervigilance, as suggested by reduced P300 difference between attack and other images and reduced appraisal of attack images as indicated by attenuated slow wave. The findings in this minimally symptomatic sample are compatible with the alterations in cognition in the posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) literature and are consistent with a dimensional model of PTSD.

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