Sex Differences in the Appraisal of Traumatic Events and Psychopathology

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Objective: The current study is an investigation of the relationship between the appraisal of traumatic events and mental disorder symptoms: internalizing symptoms and externalizing/substance-abuse symptoms. Cumulative trauma over the lifetime was taken into account. Also, specific effects related to traumatic events of various types (i.e., betrayal trauma, accident involving a family member, physical violence, and natural disaster) were assessed. Participants, 190 young men and 277 young women, were asked to evaluate the strength with which the traumatic event impacted their lives. Method: It was hypothesized that the relationship between traumatic experiences and mental disorder symptoms would be stronger in women than in men, and also that cognitive appraisal, in interaction with gender, would be related to the severity of the symptoms. Results: Women showed higher levels of internalizing symptoms, but lower levels of externalizing/substance-abuse symptoms than men. Still, the correlation between cumulative trauma and both types of symptoms was stronger in women. For all types of trauma, women reported a stronger negative appraisal of the event than men. Interaction of sex and cognitive appraisal was demonstrated to be related to the severity of internalizing disorders. Conclusion: In the present study, women, as compared with men, evaluated traumatic events more negatively (for all types of trauma) and the relationship between trauma and mental disorder symptoms was also stronger in women. These results show the importance of the appraisal of trauma in the development of psychiatric symptoms in women and men following trauma.

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