Psychophysiological Imagery Assessment in Chronic Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

Dana Bichescu-Burian


Several research studies have established in the past that patients with posttraumatic stress disorder as a result of various traumatic events show a marked increase in peripheral physiological responsiveness during personalized trauma-related imagery (Orr & Roth, 2000). The present study builds on this topic by investigating responses to unpleasant (trauma-related) and neutral events within an imagery experiment in aged Romanian victims of political imprisonment, decades afterwards. Peripheral physiological indicators are examined using a Vitaport II ambulatory digital recorder Ŕ heart rate (HR) and skin conductance level (SCL) Ŕ as well as self-perceived arousal within three groups Ŕ a grup of former political detainees with chronic PTSD (N = 13), a group of former prisoners who never had such a diagnosis (N = 14), and a control group (N = 9). PTSD patients exhibited a distinctively increased HR reaction during imagery of traumatic experiences than during imagery of neutral contents. From the comparison between HR and SCL responses to traumatic and to neutral thought contents in patients without PTSD and in controls no such differences were identified. The HR response change to imagery of traumatic memories classifies individuals with highest severity of PTSD. Additionally, statistical analysis of the heart rate and skin conductance responses between persons with and without PTSD it showed that chronic PTSD patients exhibited a general heightened arousal state in that they showed a significant higher HR and SCL response than the persons who never had a PTSD diagnosis during all three personal imagery sessions. This
suggests that long-term PTSD may lead over decades to an increased baseline physiological activity, generally higher physiological responsivity during all kinds of imagery contents, which may be unpleasant or neutral, trauma-related or not. These findings support the idea that the typical symptom of “hyperarousal” by four-decades-chronic PTSD patients comes to physiological expression during the mental undergoing of personal experiences and is especially highly expressed during the imagery of personal traumatic experiences.

chronic PTSD; imaginative stimuli; physiologic indicators, former political prisoners.

Dana Bichescu-Burian – Al. I. Cuza University, Iaşi, Romania

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