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Psychol Trauma. 2018 Sep;10(5):576-584. doi: 10.1037/tra0000324.

Negative world views after trauma: Neurophysiological evidence for negative expectancies.

Author information

Psychology Department.
Program in Neuroscience, Middlebury College.
Department of Psychology, Norwich University.



Negative views of both the self and the world are commonly seen in individuals who have suffered psychological trauma. These negative cognitions are thought to be significant as they are likely to play a critical role in furthering, if not promoting, other symptoms and exacerbating the dysfunction sometimes seen after a traumatic event. This has led to the inclusion of "persistent negative beliefs and expectations about oneself or the world" in the DSM-5 (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). Although there is considerable self-report and behavioral evidence for negative biases after trauma, there is less concurrent neurophysiological data. This study used the N400, an event-related potential sensitive to semantic expectancies, to assess negative expectations in a trauma sample.


In this study, 39 participants completed an N400 task in which they read ambiguous sentence stems that ended either with a positive final word (Things will turn out . . . fine) or a negative final word (Things will turn out . . . badly). The authors predicted that those trauma survivors with negative cognitions (as measured by the Posttraumatic Cognitions Inventory [PTCI]: Foa et al., 1999) would show N400 amplitudes indicating expectancies for negative endings. Augmenting the previous self-report data, this would provide evidence for negative expectancies that are fairly early and relatively automatic.


N400 amplitudes to negative sentence endings were significantly related to negative views of the world as measured by the PTCI.


This suggests that negative world views in trauma survivors have demonstrable neurophysiological correlates and impact on expectations in ambiguous situations. (PsycINFO Database Record

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
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