Written by Alexis Mitchell UNCC ‘18
Individuals with posttraumatic stress disorder can be emotionally triggered by their environments. This can occur when something in the individual’s environment “sets off” a memory or an intrusive thought, either about or related to a previous traumatic experience. Often enough, these individuals may respond to environmental triggers in a dysfunctional manner, such as suppressing their emotions or associating overly negative attitudes with a significant event.
Susan M. Orsillo and colleagues, conducted a study examining the emotional responses of women with and without PTSD to film clips designed to elicit several specific emotion states: contentment, amusement, sadness, fear, and anger (2004). In this present study, they examined three dimensions of emotional responding: self-reported subjective response, observable facial expressivity, and written expression of emotion. The goal of this study was to examine whether or not women with PTSD would express diminished responding to positive stimuli and increased responding to negative stimuli relative to women without the disorder.
The participants were recruited by flyers that were posted around the city in Boston, Massachusetts. There were forty-four women participants in total, with 24 intended for the PTSD group and 20 with no PTSD intended for the control group. Preliminary assessment was done a clinical psychologist to ensure individuals were eligible for each group.
Using the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule scale, results confirmed that women with PTSD expressed more negative activation on the PANAS, in response to all the film clips, than women without PTSD. There were no considerable differences in facial expressivity between the groups. In the written expression of emotion set, the PTSD group used more negative emotion words in their writings than the control group for all films, except the film that was eliciting contentment.
Overall, results revealed that the women with PTSD responded to the sadness, fear, and anger film clips with more negative emotion words and reported higher levels of negative activation across all emotion-eliciting film stimuli. Another interesting finding from this study is that the PTSD group reported more positive activation in response to the films designed to induce sadness, fear, and anger. This is likely because part of the positive activation dimension of the PANAS involves alertness and attentiveness. In addition, these findings most likely reflect the high arousal associated with exposure to negatively, emotionally evocative stimuli within the PTSD group.
Considering the findings in this study, future research directed at the negatively focused emotional expressiveness in women with PTSD is needed.
Image found: https://openclipart.org/detail/177051/film