Date of Award
Master of Science (MS)
Trauma is associated with neurological and physiological differences that can persist years after trauma exposure. Physiologically, trauma has been associated with altered responses to cues in the environment, most commonly threatening stimuli. For instance, in participants who experience trauma during adulthood, such individuals exhibit heightened physiological arousal. Conversely, other studies have found that childhood trauma may be associated with blunted physiological arousal. Most of this research has involved threatening cues, but previous research suggests that trauma is also associated with aberrant physiological arousal responses to positive or rewarding cues. Skin conductance responses (SCRs) are a commonly utilized measure of physiological arousal, and SCR has been linked to arousal responses in fear conditioning. The present study utilized SCR to examine the impact of interpersonal childhood trauma on physiological response to fear, safety, and reward cues, controlling for non-interpersonal lifetime trauma. Using data from a convenience sample of undergraduate students collected for a broader study protocol, SCR data derived from electrodermal activity (EDA) was collected during the novel Fear, Safety, and Reward Discrimination task (FSRD). Participants provided survey data on endorsed lifetime and childhood trauma. Using a hierarchal regression model, the respective impact of interpersonal childhood trauma on physiological response to fear, safety, and reward cues was examined. Results demonstrated that childhood trauma predicted SCR in response to fear cues, with effects showing a quicker habituation of fear response in those with relatively greater childhood trauma. Greater childhood trauma was also significantly related to lower SCR in response to reward cues. No effects were observed in response to the safety cues. These results demonstrated a unique impact of childhood trauma on physiological arousal during fearful and rewarding cues. The observed habituation effect in response to fear cues in those with relatively higher childhood trauma may suggest that prior work demonstrating blunted SCRs observed in those high in childhood trauma may be a result of quick habituation.