Date of Graduation

5-2014

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology (PhD)

Degree Level

Graduate

Department

Psychological Science

Advisor

Matthew T. Feldner

Committee Member

Denise R. Beike

Second Committee Member

Lindsay Ham

Third Committee Member

Jeffrey M. Lohr

Abstract

Emerging evidence suggests that in addition to fear, traumatic event-related disgust reactions may be integral to understanding the sequelae of sexual traumatization. Importantly, evidence broadly suggests compared to fear, disgust may be resistant to extinction. As such, conditioned disgust reactions may not evidence the same pattern of extinction observed with fear-based reactions. This may have important implications for the treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). As such, the current study sought to fill an important gap in the existing literature by examining specific processes and mechanisms that are likely to affect outcomes of exposure-based interventions following sexual traumatization. Specifically, 72 women with a history of sexual victimization completed a laboratory-based assessment of disgust- and fear-based emotional reactivity in response to repeated exposures to disgust- and fear-focused idiographic scripts of their traumatic event. Results demonstrated that initial disgust responding was significantly greater than anxiety responding. Anxiety declined significantly across the course of exposure while disgust did not. However, comparison of slopes in disgust and anxiety did not result in significant differences. Theoretical and practical implications as well as directions for future research are discussed.

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