The relation between posttraumatic stress symptom severity and startle potentiation to predictable and unpredictable threat


Aberrant threat reactivity has been implicated in the pathophysiology of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD); however, the literature on this association is mixed. One factor that may contribute to this inconsistent association is differences in severity of posttraumatic stress symptoms (PTSSs) across studies, but no studies have tested this hypothesis. The relation between PTSD and threat reactivity may also differ between unpredictable threats (U-threats) and predictable threats (P-threats), given burgeoning evidence to support a particular role for aberrant responding to U-threat in PTSD. The present study examined how PTSS severity relates to startle potentiation to U-threat and P-threat in a trauma-exposed community sample (N = 258). There was a negative linear, but not quadratic, relation between PTSS severity and startle potentiation to U-threat, but not P-threat. Blunted defensive responding to U-threat may therefore contribute to higher levels of PTSSs and may represent a novel treatment target for higher levels of PTSSs.

The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease