College of Psychology: Faculty Articles

Title

PTSD symptoms and dominant emotional response to a stressful event: An examination of DSM-IV criterion A2

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

2010

Keywords

PTSD, emotion, trauma, diagnostic and statistical manual

Publication Title

Anxiety, Stress, and Coping

ISSN

1061-5806

Volume

23

Issue/No.

1

Abstract

To qualify for a diagnosis of posttraumatic stress disorder the DSM-IV requires that individuals report dominant emotions of fear, helplessness, and horror during the trauma. Despite this stipulation, traumatic events can elicit a myriad of emotions other than fear such as anger, guilt or shame, sadness, and numbing. The present study examined which emotional reactions to a stressful event in a college student sample are associated with the highest levels of PTSD symptoms. Results suggest mixed support for the DSM-IV criteria. Although participants who experienced a dominant emotion of fear reported high PTSD symptomatology, participants who experienced anger, disgust-related emotions, and sadness reported PTSD symptoms of equivalent severity. Participants also reported experiencing other emotions more frequently than they reported experiencing fear. Coping style was unrelated to dominant emotion experienced; however, dysfunctional coping was associated with worse outcomes in terms of PTSD symptoms. These results have diagnostic and treatment limitations.

DOI

10.1080/10615800902818771

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