Alterations in Positive Affect: Relationship to Symptoms, Traumatic Experiences, and Affect Ratings

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Objective: Intrusive negative affect and concurrent deficits in positive affect are hallmarks of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). We sought to further extend the extant literature by exploring the experience of negative affect intrusion upon potentially positive situations (here termed, “negative affect interference,” NAI). Method: Two studies with adults endorsing at least 1 traumatic event (Study 1, N = 294; Study 2, N = 286) examined how NAI and more general hedonic deficits (HD) relate to psychopathology, trauma exposure characteristics, and ratings of normed visual stimuli. Results: Study 1 found that NAI and HD were positively correlated with PTSD symptoms and childhood trauma, and NAI incremented over depressive symptoms in predicting PTSD severity. Study 2 results indicated additional strong positive correlations between NAI and HD and anhedonia, affect regulation problems, negative affect, and neuroticism. NAI and HD were found to increment over trait NA in predicting PTSD symptoms. Individuals endorsing elevated NAI and HD rated positively valenced pictures (including food and erotic images) as less arousing, although not more negative. Conclusions: These findings expand conceptualizations of anhedonia and emotional numbing by drawing attention to negative affect in otherwise positive contexts.

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