Reduced emotion regulatory selection flexibility in post-traumatic stress disorder: Converging performance-based evidence from two PTSD populations

Naomi B. Fine, Noa Ben-Aharon, Daphna Bardin Armon, Zivya Seligman, Liat Helpman, Miki Bloch, Talma Hendler, Gal Sheppes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Background Contemporary views of emotion dysregulation in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) highlight reduced ability to flexibly select regulatory strategies according to differing situational demands. However, empirical evidence of reduced regulatory selection flexibility in PTSD is lacking. Multiple studies show that healthy individuals demonstrate regulatory selection flexibility manifested in selecting attentional disengagement regulatory strategies (e.g. distraction) in high-intensity emotional contexts and selecting engagement meaning change strategies (e.g. reappraisal) in low-intensity contexts. Accordingly, we hypothesized that PTSD populations will show reduced regulatory selection flexibility manifested in diminished increase in distraction (over reappraisal) preference as intensity increases from low to high intensity. Methods Study 1 compared student participants with high (N = 22) post-traumatic symptoms (PTS, meeting the clinical cutoff for PTSD) and participants with low (N = 22) post-traumatic symptoms. Study 2 compared PTSD diagnosed women (N = 31) due to childhood sexual abuse and matched non-clinical women (N = 31). In both studies, participants completed a well-established regulatory selection flexibility performance-based paradigm that involves selecting between distraction and reappraisal to regulate negative emotional words of low and high intensity. Results Beyond demonstrating adequate psychometric properties, Study 1 confirmed that relative to the low PTS group, the high PTS group presented reduced regulatory selection flexibility (p = 0.01, = 0.14). Study 2 critically extended findings of Study 1, in showing similar reduced regulatory selection flexibility in a diagnosed PTSD population, relative to a non-clinical population (p = 0.002, = 0.114). Conclusions Two studies provide converging evidence for reduced emotion regulatory selection flexibility in two PTSD populations.

Original languageEnglish
JournalPsychological Medicine
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the Israel Science Foundation (GS, Grant No. 1130/16) (MB, Grant No. 2107/17); the U.S. Department of Defense (TH, Grant No. W81XWH-16-C-019); National Institute of Psychobiology for Israel Young Investigator (LH); and the Brain and Behavior Foundation, NARSAD (LH, Grant No. 26302).

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press.

Keywords

  • emotion regulation
  • flexibility
  • PTSD
  • selection
  • trauma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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