Date of Award
Master of Science (MS)
Objective: The influence of childhood trauma on clinical and cognitive functioning, specifically attention, has a large research base. However, the majority of studies have examined response inhibition to measure attention, and very few studies have evaluated how childhood trauma influences attentional control behavior and brain activity. Additionally, I aimed to integrate the use of the Allostatic Load Theory (ALT) to examine the outcome of negative attentional outcomes through the input of traumatic stressors. I addressed the above limitation and incorporated the ALT by investigating the influence of childhood trauma, community violence, and PTSD symptoms on attention performance and brain activity specifically during the Flanker task, which measures attentional control. I also examined how these factors influence symptoms of ADHD.
Method: In the present study, participants (n = 22) completed the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire – Short Form (CTQ-SF), the Survey of Exposure to Community Violence (SECV), the Barkley Adult ADHD Rating Scale (BAARS-IV), and the Eriksen Flanker task. Participants who endorsed traumatic childhood or community violence experiences completed the Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Checklist for the DSM-5 (PCL-5; n = 10). The P300, an electrical waveform indicating brain activity during focused attention states, was measured during the Flanker task using Electroencephalogram (EEG). I predicted that traumatic childhood experiences, community violence, and resultant PTSD symptoms would predict P300 brain activity, ADHD symptoms, and Flanker task response time and accuracy.
Results: When examined together, the collective influence of traumatic childhood experiences, community violence exposure, and PTSD symptoms did not significantly predict brain activity, ADHD symptoms, or attention behaviors. However, when PTSD symptoms and childhood trauma experiences were examined without the influence of community violence, they significantly predicted reaction time on the Flanker task. Also, when traumatic childhood experiences and PTSD symptoms were controlled for, they both became significant coefficient predictors of P300 peak amplitude during incongruent Flanker trials and reaction time during incongruent Flanker trials. Last, PTSD symptoms were able to significantly increase the systematic variance accounted for when added to models examining the influence of the P3000 and RT during incongruent trials.
Conclusion: This study has several implications. First, I provide evidence that attentional control may also be influenced by childhood trauma and symptoms of PTSD, which adds to the body of literature surrounding the influence of trauma on interference suppression processes. Also, community violence may not be a major predictor of attentional control outcomes when examined in the context of the ALT. Importantly, in the context of the ALT, these negative outcomes may only result in those who experienced a direct personal traumatic experience and are still impacted by that event (specifically those who are displaying symptoms of PTSD from that event). Thus, childhood trauma may not be sufficient enough to result in allostatic overload, as many individuals are able to cope and potentially recover from that event. The combination of PTSD symptoms and direct childhood trauma combined may be more reliable predictors of brain activity than either concept alone. Together, these results may have clinical implications, such as the importance of diagnostic clarity in clinical settings, the utility of applying the ALT in the context of trauma, and collecting information about stressors from more than one source.
Jupp, Kylie M., "The Influence of Childhood Trauma and PTSD Symptoms on Attention and ADHD Symptoms in Adulthood: An EEG Study" (2020). USC Aiken Psychology Theses. 46.