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International Journal of Psychophysiology

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DOI: 10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2022.01.005


Emotional dysregulation that occurs after trauma conveys risk for multiple disorders, including posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety. Psychophysiological data (e.g., skin conductance level [SCL]) may be a useful biomarker for quantifying emotion dysregulation given that autonomic nervous system (ANS)-mediated arousal may underlie this feature. In this longitudinal study, we tested whether SCL collected following a single-incident traumatic injury could predict changes in emotion dysregulation over 6 months. Sixty-six adults were recruited from the emergency department; SCL was quantified during an active trauma narrative, in which participants re-told their traumatic event to a research staff member, as well as a neutral narrative for a control condition. Change in SCL (ΔSCL) was calculated using a maximum activation – minimum activation difference score. Multilevel linear modeling was used to test ΔSCL as a predictor of emotion dysregulation using the Emotion Dysregulation Scale (EDS) over time (3 timepoints over 6 months). Results showed that greater ΔSCL – indicative of increasing arousal– during both the trauma (p = 0.037) and neutral (p = 0.013) narratives was a significant predictor of greater emotion dysregulation at each subsequent timepoint. Further, we found a ΔSCL by time interaction, such that less ΔSCL during the neutral narrative predicted decreased emotion dysregulation over time (b = −1.26, SE = 0.43, t = −2.91, p = 0.004). Results validate the use of lab-based assessments of arousal to study emotion dysregulation in trauma survivors. That recovery from emotion dysregulation was predicted by less arousal during a neutral event underscores the importance of clinically targeting response to safety in trauma survivors.


Accepted version. International Journal of Psychophysiology, Vol. 173 (March 2022): 29-37. DOI. © 2022 Elsevier. Used with permission.

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