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Stress. 2016;19(1):1-7. doi: 10.3109/10253890.2015.1113523. Epub 2015 Nov 23.

The hidden price and possible benefit of repeated traumatic exposure.

Author information

a The institute for the Study of Affective Neuroscience, University of Haifa , Haifa , Israel .
b Sagol Department of Neurobiology, University of Haifa , Haifa , Israel .
c Department of Psychology , University of Haifa , Haifa , Israel .
d Department of Cognitive Science , Budapest University of Technology and Economics , Budapest , Hungary .
e Nyírő Gyula Hospital, National Institute of Psychiatry and Addictions , Budapest , Hungary , and.
f Department of Counseling and Clinical Psychology , Teachers College, Columbia University , New York , NY , USA.


There is a growing evidence showing that first-responders who are frequently exposed to traumatic events as part of their occupational routine may pay a hidden price. Although they display low to moderate levels of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms, similar to individuals with full-blown PTSD, they show impaired ability to process and react according to contextual demands. We aimed to test whether this impairment affects performance on simple unrelated tasks and its association with cumulative traumatic exposure and level of PTSD symptoms. Thirty-nine trauma-exposed criminal scene investigator police and 35 unexposed civilians matched for age, gender, and education performed a simple discrimination task in the presence of aversive pictures with low or high intensity. We predicted and found that trauma-exposed individuals failed to modify their behavior in accordance with levels of negative intensity. Hence they were equally distracted in both low and high negative intensity conditions, compared to unexposed controls who showed improved performance in low intensity conditions. Importantly, performance of trauma-exposed individuals on conditions of low intensity negatively correlated with their levels of PTSD symptoms. These results highlight the maladaptive tendency of individuals with repeated traumatic exposure to maintain the same behavior in low-intensity contextual conditions when it is no longer adequate. Interestingly however, in high-intensity conditions trauma-exposed individuals outperformed unexposed controls. Specifically, when completing simple tasks in high intensity conditions. The results suggest that repeated traumatic exposure has both positive and negative consequences on the way individuals interpret and react to their environment.


Context; first-responders; functioning; hippocampus; negative intensity; repeated traumatic exposure

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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