Shattering World Assumptions: A Prospective View of the Impact of Adverse Events on World Assumptions

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Shattered Assumptions theory (Janoff-Bulman, 1992) posits that experiencing a traumatic event has the potential to diminish the degree of optimism in the assumptions of the world (assumptive world), which could lead to the development of posttraumatic stress disorder. Prior research assessed the assumptive world with a measure that was recently reported to have poor psychometric properties (Kaler et al., 2008). The current study had 3 aims: (a) to assess the psychometric properties of a recently developed measure of the assumptive world, (b) to retrospectively examine how prior adverse events affected the optimism of the assumptive world, and (c) to measure the impact of an intervening adverse event. An 8-week prospective design with a college sample (N = 882 at Time 1 and N = 511 at Time 2) was used to assess the study objectives. We split adverse events into those that were objectively or subjectively traumatic in nature. The new measure exhibited adequate psychometric properties. The report of a prior objective or subjective trauma at Time 1 was related to a less optimistic assumptive world. Furthermore, participants who experienced an intervening objectively traumatic event evidenced a decrease in optimistic views of the world compared with those who did not experience an intervening adverse event. We found support for Shattered Assumptions theory retrospectively and prospectively using a reliable measure of the assumptive world. We discuss future assessments of the measure of the assumptive world and clinical implications to help rebuild the assumptive world with current therapies.

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