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What earthquake survivors can teach us about the nature of PTSD




Understanding “peritoneal reactions” is key to understanding PTSD symptoms.


A new research paper published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology attempts to understand why certain memories from traumatic experiences may appear more intrusive than others. The answer, according to the researchers, may have something to do with the difference in the way intrusive memories are encoded in long-term memory.

Says researchers led by Alessandro Massaza of University College London. “We provide support for this hypothesis by showing that specific moments of the traumatic event experienced later as intrusive memories are characterized by different ‘flatness’ reactions to those moments of the same trauma that were not subsequently intrusive.”

The peritoneal reaction, according to the researchers, describes the thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that people have during or immediately after a traumatic event. Some can be severe, such as dissociation (for example, thinking that what one is going through is not real or is a dream), malaise (feeling afraid, terrified, and/or helpless during the event), immobility (inability to the movement). to move through the event).

To test whether intrusive memories about traumatic experiences are likely to stem from certain types of peritoneal reactions, researchers recruited 104 survivors of the 2016-2017 earthquake in central Italy to participate in a short character study. They asked survivors whether they experienced any intrusive memories about the trauma and, if so, rate memory on the following five dimensions of peritoneal interactions: mental defeat, physical dissociation, cognitive overload, immobility, and distress.

“Intrusive memories can only be remembered involuntarily and are triggered by things that are internal (eg, thoughts or emotions) or external (eg, objects) that bear some relevance to the traumatic event,” Masaza says. “For example, an earthquake survivor may experience a memory of breaking into their collapsed home when passing near a construction site.”

The researchers also asked survivors to identify and describe other memories of earthquakes that were just as painful as intrusive memories but were not at all spontaneously intrusive. In this way, they could compare the peritoneal reactions of the intrusive and non-intrusive trauma memories.

They found that severe peritoneal reflexes were more likely to appear in intrusive memories than in non-intrusive memories.

Presumably, moments experienced as intrusive memories were associated with higher levels of all peritoneal reflexes, except mental defeat, when compared with moments of the same trauma experienced by the same participants as traumatic, but non-intrusive, the researchers say. . “These findings support the importance of peritoneal encoding for intrusive memories.”

Researchers believe these findings hold promise for the development of new and effective forms of PTSD treatment.

“Our findings have different practical implications for clinicians and people with live experience of PTSD or trauma,” says Massaza. They suggest that peritoneal reflexes may play an important role in the development of intrusive memories, a hallmark of PTSD. Therefore, interventions aimed at reducing negative peritoneal reactions during or immediately after a traumatic event (eg, psychological first aid) are likely to have the potential to prevent the development of intrusive memories.”

A full interview with Alessandro Massaza can be found here discussing his research on PTSD and intrusive memories: Where do intrusive memories come from?





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