Experts determined that the way a person reacts to images of trauma — psychophysiologic reactivity to trauma-related cues — can help to predict if a person is at risk for a post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) diagnosis.
Psychophysiologic reactivity refers to changes, such as elevated heart rate, altered brain waves, skin conductance differences, or a host of other physiological measures, experienced after viewing scripted images of trauma.
The findings appear online in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology.
Experts say that approximately seven to 12 percent of the general adult population in the U.S. suffers with PTSD.
The disorder develops after an inciting trauma. PTSD commonly affects military personnel who have faced combat, victims of sexual assault, people from conflict-ridden areas of the world, and patients who have survived intensive care unit admissions.
In a new report, researchers analyzed data from five prior studies with 150 study participants: 78 diagnosed with PTSD and 72 who had experienced trauma but did not develop PTSD.
Researchers studied four main predictor classes including the measurement of psychophysiologic reactivity to trauma-related scripts; psychophysiologic reactivity to other stressful but non-trauma related scripts; self-reported distress in response to trauma-related scripts; and self-reported distress to other stressful but non-trauma-related scripts.
Of the four indices examined, psychophysiologic reactivity to trauma-related cues appeared to be the most robust predictor of PTSD.
The researchers believe that these findings have significant implications for the field of psychiatry.
“Psychophysiologic reactivity to script-driven imagery is a potential experimental paradigm that could be used to index an individual’s fear response,” explained principal investigator Suzanne Pineles, Ph.D. “Future research may extend the use of this paradigm to other populations.
“For example, it is possible that individuals with other fear-based disorders, such as phobias or panic disorder, would exhibit similar patterns of reactivity to scripts describing their fear.”
Source: Boston University Medical Center