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J Trauma Stress. 2019 Oct;32(5):701-711. doi: 10.1002/jts.22439. Epub 2019 Oct 7.

Gender Differences in Threat Biases: Trauma Type Matters in Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.

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Stress and Health Research Program, San Francisco Veteran Affairs Medical Center, San Francisco, California, USA.
Department of Psychiatry, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, California, USA.
Veterans Health Administration Advanced Fellowship in Women's Health, San Francisco Veteran Affairs Medical Center, San Francisco, California, USA.


in English, Chinese, Spanish

Women are diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at twice the rate of men. This gender difference may be related to differences in PTSD experiences (e.g., more hypervigilance in women) or types of trauma experienced (e.g., interpersonal trauma). We examined whether attentional threat biases were associated with gender, PTSD diagnosis, and/or trauma type. Participants were 70 civilians and veterans (38 women, 32 men; 41 with PTSD, 29 without PTSD) assessed with the Clinician Administered PTSD Scale for DSM-IV who completed a facial dot-probe attention bias task and self-report measures of psychiatric symptoms and trauma history. Factorial ANOVA and regression models examined associations between gender, PTSD diagnosis, index trauma type, lifetime traumatic experiences, and attentional threat biases. Results revealed that compared to women without PTSD and men both with and without PTSD, women with PTSD demonstrated attentional biases toward threatening facial expressions, d = 1.19, particularly fearful expressions, d = 0.74. Psychiatric symptoms or early/lifetime trauma did not account for these attentional biases. Biases were related to interpersonal assault index traumas, ηp 2 = .13, especially sexual assault, d = 1.19. Trauma type may be an important factor in the development of attentional threat biases, which theoretically interfere with trauma recovery. Women may be more likely to demonstrate attentional threat biases due to higher likelihood of interpersonal trauma victimization rather than due to gender-specific psychobiological pathways. Future research is necessary to clarify if sexual assault alone or in combination with gender puts individuals at higher risk of developing PTSD.


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