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Emotional Processing in PTSD: Heightened Negative Emotionality to Unpleasant Photographic Stimuli

Wolf, Erika J. MA*†; Miller, Mark W. PhD*†‡; McKinney, Ann E. MA*

The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease: June 2009 - Volume 197 - Issue 6 - p 419-426
doi: 10.1097/NMD.0b013e3181a61c68
Original Article

This study evaluated evidence for 2 forms of emotional abnormality in posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD): numbing and heightened negative emotionality. Forty-nine male veterans with PTSD and 75 without the disorder rated their emotional responses to photographs that depicted scenes of Vietnam combat or were drawn from the International Affective Picture System (Lang et al., 2005). Images varied in their trauma-relatedness and affective qualities. A series of repeated measures ANOVAs revealed that Vietnam combat veterans with PTSD responded to unpleasant images with greater negative emotionality (i.e., enhanced arousal and lower valence ratings) than those without the disorder and this effect was modified by the trauma-relatedness of the image with stronger effects for trauma-related images. In contrast, the 2 groups showed equivalent patterns of responses to pleasant images. Findings raise questions about the sensitivity of the International Affective Picture System rating protocol for the assessment of PTSD-related emotional numbing.

*National Center for PTSD, Veterans Affairs Boston Healthcare System, Boston, Massachusetts; †Department of Psychology, Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts; and ‡Department of Psychiatry, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, Massachusetts.

Supported by National Institute of Mental Health grant (5F31MH074267) awarded (to E.J.W.).

Send reprint requests to Mark W. Miller, PhD, National Center for PTSD, VA Boston Healthcare System, 150 S. Huntington Ave. (116B-2), Boston, Massachusetts, 02130. E-mail:

© 2009 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.