Effects of trauma-focused rumination among trauma-exposed individuals with and without posttraumatic stress disorder: An experiment

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Suzanne Vrshek-Schallhorn, Associate Professor and Undergraduate Program Director (Creator)
Blair Wisco, Assistant Professor (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site: http://library.uncg.edu/

Abstract: Rumination, or thinking repetitively about one's distress, is a risk factor for posttraumatic stressdisorder (PTSD). Current theories suggest that rumination contributes to PTSD symptoms directly,by increasing negative reactions to trauma cues (i.e., symptom exacerbation), or represents a formof cognitive avoidance, if verbal ruminations are less distressing than trauma imagery. The goal ofthis study was to test the symptom exacerbation and cognitive avoidance accounts of traumafocusedrumination. We recruited 135 trauma-exposed participants (n = 60 diagnosed with PTSD)and randomly assigned them to ruminate about their trauma, distract themselves, or engage intrauma imagery. For individuals with and without PTSD, rumination led to larger increases insubjective distress (i.e., negative affect, fear, sadness, subjective arousal, valence) than distraction,?p2s = .04–.13, but there were no differences between rumination and imagery ?p2s = .001–.02.We found no evidence that rumination or imagery elicited physiological arousal, ds = 0.01–0.19,but did find that distraction reduced general physiological arousal, as measured by heart rate,relative to baseline, d = 0.84, which may be due to increases in parasympathetic nervous systemactivity (i.e., respiratory sinus arrhythmia), d = 0.33. These findings offer no support for theavoidant function of rumination in PTSD. Instead, the findings were consistent with symptomexacerbation, indicating that rumination leads directly to emotional reactivity to trauma remindersand may be a fruitful target in PTSD intervention.

Additional Information

Journal of Traumatic Stress, 36
Language: English
Date: 2023
posttraumatic stress disorder, PTSD, mental health

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