Emotion regulation, physiological arousal and PTSD symptoms in trauma-exposed individuals.
Shepherd L., Wild J.
OBJECTIVES: Retrospective studies suggest a link between PTSD and difficulty regulating negative emotions. This study investigated the relationship between PTSD symptoms and the ability to regulate negative emotions in real-time using a computerised task to assess emotion regulation. METHOD: Trauma-exposed ambulance workers (N = 45) completed self-report measures of trauma exposure, PTSD symptoms and depression. Participants then completed a computer task requiring them to enhance, decrease or maintain their negative emotions in response to unpleasant images. Skin conductance responses (SCR) were recorded and participants also made ratings of emotion intensity. Immediately after the computer task, participants were asked to describe the strategies they had used to regulate their negative emotions during the task and recorded spontaneous intrusions for the unpleasant images they had seen throughout the following week. RESULTS: PTSD symptoms were associated with difficulty regulating (specifically, enhancing) negative emotions, greater use of response modulation (i.e., suppression) and less use of cognitive change (i.e., reappraisal) strategies to down-regulate their negative emotions during the task. More intrusions developed in participants who had greater reductions in physiological arousal whilst decreasing their negative emotions. LIMITATIONS: PTSD was measured by self-report rather than by a clinician administered interview. The results suggest a relationship between emotion regulation ability and PTSD symptoms rather than emotion regulation and PTSD. CONCLUSIONS: Difficulty regulating negative emotions may be a feature of trauma-exposed individuals with PTSD symptoms, which may be linked to the types of strategies they employ to regulate negative emotions.