Emotional and Cognitive Content of Autobiographical Memories of Trauma in Women with Post traumatic Stress Disorder: An fMRI and Narrative Analysis Study Open Access

Lucaciu, Irina Maria (2015)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/n870zr55w?locale=en


Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a debilitating memory disorder that develops in the aftermath of trauma. Nevertheless, some individuals who suffer comparable trauma become resilient to the disorder. To better understand resilience, previous studies have investigated differences in the emotional arousal experienced by individuals diagnosed with PTSD and resilient individuals when recalling trauma memories. A differential use of affective and cognitive language in trauma memories, as well as differential activation in amygdala and medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), have been previously identified. Since no studies have examined emotional processing in traumatized individuals by simultaneously using narrative analysis and brain imaging, the present study aims to merge the two approaches. For this purpose, 40 African-American women (15 with PTSD and 25 trauma controls) were recruited from a publicly funded hospital in Atlanta, Georgia. A trained clinician interviewed all participants, and the narratives of the most traumatic childhood and adult events were transcribed and analyzed using the Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC) program. A subset of 30 participants also viewed emotional images from the International Affective Picture System during functional magnetic resonance imaging. As predicted, participants with PTSD used significantly more affective words, and specifically more negative emotion words, than trauma controls (ps < .05) in their trauma narratives, but no difference was found in cognitive word use. Use of affective words was correlated to PTSD symptoms. There was a trend for less amygdala activation for the PTSD group (p = .076). No difference in mPFC activation was found (p > .05). However, we found that the more mPFC activation to positive images participants showed, the lesser affective and specifically negative emotion words they used in their trauma narratives. In conclusion, differences in emotional processing exist between traumatized individuals with or without PTSD, and they are evident in both the way they narrate their traumas and in their brain's reaction to emotional stimuli. This is the first study that we are aware of to examine the emotional content of trauma memories using both fMRI and narrative analysis methodologies.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

Materials and Methods 14

Results 20

Discussion 38

References 53

Appendix A 70

Appendix B 72

Appendix C 73

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