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Emotional Reactivity, Emotion Regulation Capacity, and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in Traumatized Refugees: An Experimental Investigation


Spiller, Tobias R; Liddell, Belinda J; Schick, Matthis; Morina, Naser; Schnyder, Ulrich; Pfaltz, Monique; Bryant, Richard A; Nickerson, Angela (2019). Emotional Reactivity, Emotion Regulation Capacity, and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in Traumatized Refugees: An Experimental Investigation. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 32(1):32-41.

Abstract

Refugees who suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) often react with strong emotions when confronted with trauma reminders. In this study, we aimed to investigate the associations between low emotion regulation capacity (as indexed by low heart rate variability [HRV]), probable PTSD diagnosis, and fear and anger reaction and recovery to trauma-related stimuli. Participants were 81 trauma-exposed refugees (probable PTSD, n = 23; trauma-exposed controls, n = 58). The experiment comprised three 5-min phases: a resting phase (baseline); an exposition phase, during which participants were exposed to trauma-related images (stimulus); and another resting phase (recovery). We assessed HRV at baseline, and fear and anger were rated at the end of each phase. Linear mixed model analyses were used to investigate the associations between baseline HRV and probable DSM-5 PTSD diagnosis in influencing anger and fear responses both immediately after viewing trauma-related stimuli and at the end of the recovery phase. Compared to controls, participants with probable PTSD showed a greater increase in fear from baseline to stimulus presentation, d = 0.606. Compared to participants with low emotion regulation capacity, participants with high emotion regulation capacity showed a smaller reduction in anger from stimulus presentation to recovery, d = 0.548. Our findings indicated that following exposure to trauma-related stimuli, probable PTSD diagnosis predicted increased fear reactivity, and low emotion regulation capacity predicted decreased anger recovery. Impaired anger recovery following trauma reminders in the context of low emotion regulation capacity might contribute to the increased levels of anger found in postconflict samples.

Abstract

Refugees who suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) often react with strong emotions when confronted with trauma reminders. In this study, we aimed to investigate the associations between low emotion regulation capacity (as indexed by low heart rate variability [HRV]), probable PTSD diagnosis, and fear and anger reaction and recovery to trauma-related stimuli. Participants were 81 trauma-exposed refugees (probable PTSD, n = 23; trauma-exposed controls, n = 58). The experiment comprised three 5-min phases: a resting phase (baseline); an exposition phase, during which participants were exposed to trauma-related images (stimulus); and another resting phase (recovery). We assessed HRV at baseline, and fear and anger were rated at the end of each phase. Linear mixed model analyses were used to investigate the associations between baseline HRV and probable DSM-5 PTSD diagnosis in influencing anger and fear responses both immediately after viewing trauma-related stimuli and at the end of the recovery phase. Compared to controls, participants with probable PTSD showed a greater increase in fear from baseline to stimulus presentation, d = 0.606. Compared to participants with low emotion regulation capacity, participants with high emotion regulation capacity showed a smaller reduction in anger from stimulus presentation to recovery, d = 0.548. Our findings indicated that following exposure to trauma-related stimuli, probable PTSD diagnosis predicted increased fear reactivity, and low emotion regulation capacity predicted decreased anger recovery. Impaired anger recovery following trauma reminders in the context of low emotion regulation capacity might contribute to the increased levels of anger found in postconflict samples.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:04 Faculty of Medicine > University Hospital Zurich > Klinik für Konsiliarpsychiatrie und Psychosomatik
Dewey Decimal Classification:610 Medicine & health
Language:English
Date:6 February 2019
Deposited On:14 Feb 2019 11:18
Last Modified:17 Sep 2019 20:13
Publisher:Wiley-Blackwell Publishing, Inc.
ISSN:0894-9867
Additional Information:This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: JOURNAL OF TRAUMATIC STRESS, 32: 32-41, which has been published in final form at https://doi.org/10.1002/jts.22371. This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Use of Self-Archived Versions. (http://www.wileyauthors.com/self-archiving)
OA Status:Closed
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1002/jts.22371
PubMed ID:30729584

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