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Psychophysiology. 2019 Jul 25:e13444. doi: 10.1111/psyp.13444. [Epub ahead of print]

Processing of affective words in adolescent PTSD-Attentional bias toward social threat.

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Department of Psychology, Bielefeld University, Bielefeld, Germany.
Department of Affective Neuropsychology, Bielefeld University, Bielefeld, Germany.
Institute of Medical Psychology and Systems Neuroscience, University of Muenster, Muenster, Germany.
Department of Psychology, Catholic University Eichstätt-Ingolstadt, Eichstätt, Germany.
Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, Freie Universitaet Berlin, Berlin, Germany.
Department of Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, Institute of Psychology, Goethe University Frankfurt, Frankfurt, Germany.


Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is associated with a hypersensitivity to potential threat. This hypersensitivity manifests through differential patterns of emotional information processing and has been demonstrated in behavioral and neurophysiological experimental paradigms. However, the majority of research has been focused on adult patients with PTSD. To examine possible differences in underlying neurophysiological patterns for adolescent patients with PTSD after childhood sexual and/or physical abuse (CSA/CPA), ERP correlates of emotional word processing in 38 healthy participants and 40 adolescent participants with PTSD after experiencing CSA/CPA were studied. The experimental paradigm consisted of a passive reading task with neutral, positive (e.g., paradise), physically threatening (e.g., torment), and socially threatening (i.e., swearing, e.g., son of a bitch) words. A modulation of P3 amplitudes by emotional valence was found, with positive words inducing less elevated amplitudes over both groups. Interestingly, in later processing, the PTSD group showed augmented early late positive potential (LPP) amplitudes for socially threatening stimuli, while there were no modulations within the healthy control group. Also, region-specific emotional modulations for anterior and posterior electrode clusters were found. For the anterior LPP, highest activations have been found for positive words, while socially and physically threatening words led to strongest modulations in the posterior LPP cluster. There were no modulations by group or emotional valence at the P1 and EPN stage. The findings suggest an enhanced conscious processing of socially threatening words in adolescent patients with PTSD after CSA/CPA, pointing to the importance of a disjoined examination of threat words in emotional processing research.


EEG; ERP; abuse; adolescents; emotional information processing; post-traumatic stress disorder; words


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