Introduction: The impact of psychological trauma on the population is significant. Research suggests that as many as 60.7% of men and 51.2% of women in America have been exposed to at least one extreme stressor or traumatizing event during the course of their lives. For those who develop chronic reactions to the traumatic events, the impact is considerable. Among the concerns are cognitive tendencies towards generalized and persistent negative appraisals. The scope of this problem is quite broad and likely includes negative evaluations of themselves, of others, and of the world. In the past, this has been captured in the diagnostic criteria of "hypervigilance" and a "sense of foreshortened future." These symptoms both reflect an appreciation for the ongoing sense of threat that many carry with them after trauma. More recently, the proposed criteria for the DSM-V have included a new symptom, namely "persistent and exaggerated negative expectations about one's self, others, or the world" in recognition of the central role negative appraisals and expectations play in the lives of some trauma survivors. In this proposal with intend to use event-related potentials (ERPs) and eye tracking technology to investigate the neurophysiological and behavioral correlates of expectancy biases in traumatized individuals. Study Design: The project will involve the participation of 90 individuals who vary in their trauma history and PTSD status. All participants will undergo a thorough diagnostic evaluation to assess the extent of trauma and current psychopathology. The diagnostic evaluation will be followed by an assessment which will take a multi-method approach to evaluating expectancy bias including self report measures, event-related potentials (e.g., brain waves), and eye tracking technology. Objective: The overall goal of this project is the better understand how trauma and PTSD impact on expectancy in the trauma survivor. This project will achieve this goal by answering questions such as 1) Does trauma alone affect expectancies or is PTSD necessary? 2) Are expectancy biases reflected in underlying brain activity? 3) Do expectancy biases predict behaviors such as hypervigilance? This proposal reflects an important continuation and extension of previous work by this group on attentional bias after trauma.
Changes in cognitions, particularly an increase in negative appraisals, are common in individuals who have experienced psychological trauma. This study will utilize psychophysiological techniques to investigate negative expectancies in this population. Results of this study will have relevance to both clinical treatment and the scientific understanding of negative appraisals that have been hypothesized to play a key role in the etiology and maintenance of post trauma pathology like PTSD.
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