The impact of aversive context on early threat detection in trauma exposed individuals and associations with post-traumatic stress symptoms


Introduction: Prolonged attentional bias to threat (AB) is associated with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, it is unclear whether this relationship extends to early threat detection (elicited by masked stimuli) and/or varies if AB is measured during an aversive context. Methods: Two trauma-exposed samples of either intervention-seekers (N=50) or community members (N=98) completed a masked dot-probe task to measure early AB to angry faces in safe vs. aversive contexts (i.e., during threat of aversive noises). Results: Linear mixed effects models showed that an aversive context increased the orienting responses in both samples; however, PTSS did not moderate these effects in either sample. Limitations: Sample size and heterogeneity of trauma-type may have impacted effect of PTSS on AB. Conclusion: These results highlight the importance of assessing AB in varying contexts and examining generalizability across populations. Given prior research, the results also suggest that increased AB in PTSD may only be present for later attentional processes rather than early threat detection, at least with behavioral methods.

Journal of Affective Disorders Reports