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Thursday, March 13, 2008

PTSD Symptoms Predicted by Personality Traits


PERSONALITY TRAITS PREDICT PTSD SYMPTOMS

Research suggests that specific personality traits may predict the development of psychopathological symptoms after trauma exposure.

"The identification of risk factors may provide clues regarding underlying mechanisms and could help in building new strategies to prevent the development of a disorder," note Markus Heinrichs (University of Zurich, Switzerland) and colleagues.

With this in mind, the team assessed for psychopathological symptoms, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety, in 43 firefighters immediately after basic training, and again at 6, 9, 12, and 24 months after entry into the fire service.

The participants were also characterized according to personality traits, such as self-efficacy, hostility, and alexithymia.

As reported in the American Journal of Psychiatry, none of the men had PTSD at baseline, but after 24 months, seven (16.3%) met the criteria for PTSD, and eight (18.6%) met the criteria for subsyndromal PTSD.

Analysis indicated that a high level of baseline hostility, assessed with the Symptom Checklist-90-R, and a low level of self-efficacy, as measured on the Inventory on Competence and Control Beliefs, explained 42% of the variance in PTSD symptoms after 2 years.

Participants who had both risk factors at baseline showed significant increases in measures of PTSD symptoms, depression, anxiety, general psychological morbidity, global symptom severity, and alexithymia during the 2-year period.

In contrast, individuals with either low levels of hostility or high levels of self-efficacy or both protective traits showed no increase in psychopathological symptoms. This suggests "a significant effect of these personality factors on the development or prevention of stress-related symptoms," say the researchers.

Commenting on the findings, they say that people with low levels of hostility may have better social coping abilities than those with high levels. Also, individuals with high levels of self-efficacy and confidence may be able to impose meaning on their traumatic experiences, thereby fostering recovery from them.
"Although the reported results need to be replicated to allow firm conclusions to be drawn," the team says that "quantification of hostility and self-efficacy as risk or protective factors may eventually help the clinician and specific organizations to target individuals at high risk of developing trauma-related disorders at an early stage."
Am J Psychiatry 2005; 162: 2276-2286

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