Date of Award
Master of Science (MS)
Emotional numbing, a symptom of PTSD, has been found to be strongly associated with relationship dysfunction (Erbes et al., 2011; Monson et al., 2012; Riggs et al., 1998; Solomon et al., 2008). It is thought that emotional numbing can negatively impact relationships, yet there is limited understanding of the mechanisms of emotional numbing. Information processing theory developed by Litz and Gray (2001) suggests that emotional numbing is not a generalized response to all emotions and is actually specific to positive emotions. They believe that people with PTSD actually experience heightened negative emotions which then lead to emotional numbing to positive emotions. The current study sought to examine the links between PTSD symptoms, emotional numbing, and relationship dysfunction by presenting participants who have experienced a trauma with a priming video clip of a couple arguing as a cue. They were then shown IAPS images and asked to rate their emotional response to each image. It was hypothesized that heightened arousal to unpleasant images and decreased arousal to pleasant images would mediate the relationship between PTSD symptoms and relationship dysfunction. Results showed that PTSD symptoms were related to heightened arousal to unpleasant images and decreased arousal to pleasant images, and that relationship satisfaction was also related to heightened arousal to unpleasant images and decreased arousal to pleasant images. Yet, no mediational relationships were found. The results support Litz and Gray’s (2001) emotional numbing model and suggest that this type of emotional numbing is related to PTSD symptoms and relationship satisfaction but that future research needs to examine this relationship further to understand the mechanisms of action.
Lytle, Kristin, "PTSD Symptomology and Relationship Dysfunction: Is Emotional Reactivity the Culprit?" (2014). USC Aiken Psychology Theses. 10.