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J Anxiety Disord. 2013 Jan;27(1):155-62. doi: 10.1016/j.janxdis.2012.11.002. Epub 2012 Dec 10.

Disgust, mental contamination, and posttraumatic stress: unique relations following sexual versus non-sexual assault.

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  • 1University of Arkansas, Department of Psychological Science, Fayetteville, AR 72701, USA.


Disgust and mental contamination (or feelings of dirtiness and urges to wash in the absence of a physical contaminant) are increasingly being linked to traumatic event exposure and posttraumatic stress (PTS) symptomatology. Evidence suggests disgust and mental contamination are particularly relevant to sexual assault experiences; however, there has been relatively little direct examination of these relations. The primary aim of the current study was to assess disgust and mental contamination-based reactivity to an individualized interpersonal assault-related script-driven imagery procedure. Participants included 22 women with a history of traumatic sexual assault and 19 women with a history of traumatic non-sexual assault. Sexual assault and PTS symptom severity predicted greater increases in disgust, feelings of dirtiness, and urges to wash in response to the traumatic event script. Finally, assault type affected the association between PTS symptom severity and increases in feelings of dirtiness and urges to wash in response to the traumatic event script such that these associations were only significant among sexually assaulted individuals. These findings highlight the need for future research focused on elucidating the nature of the relation between disgust and mental contamination and PTS reactions following various traumatic events.

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