Emotional Processing in PTSD: Heightened Negative Emotionality to Unpleasant Photographic Stimuli

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This study evaluated evidence for 2 forms of emotional abnormality in posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD): numbing and heightened negative emotionality. Forty-nine male veterans with PTSD and 75 without the disorder rated their emotional responses to photographs that depicted scenes of Vietnam combat or were drawn from the International Affective Picture System (Lang et al., 2005). Images varied in their trauma-relatedness and affective qualities. A series of repeated measures ANOVAs revealed that Vietnam combat veterans with PTSD responded to unpleasant images with greater negative emotionality (i.e., enhanced arousal and lower valence ratings) than those without the disorder and this effect was modified by the trauma-relatedness of the image with stronger effects for trauma-related images. In contrast, the 2 groups showed equivalent patterns of responses to pleasant images. Findings raise questions about the sensitivity of the International Affective Picture System rating protocol for the assessment of PTSD-related emotional numbing.

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