Expressive Inhibition Following Trauma: Implications for Understanding Posttraumatic Numbing
Clapp, Joshua D.
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Deliberate inhibition of expressive emotion has been reported among individuals with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but the consequences of this behavior and the implications for posttraumatic numbing have received limited attention. This study examined the impact of expressive inhibition on subjective and physiological responding within the context of an analogue trauma paradigm. All participants ( N = 192) viewed an analogue trauma film depicting scenes of an actual suicide. Participants then viewed either an amusement- or sadness-eliciting film under instructions to (a) inhibit all expressive behavior, or (b) naturally express emotion. Physiological response was recorded throughout the procedure and emotion ratings were collected following each film. Expressive inhibition during the amusement film produced reductions in subjective amusement, although no corresponding effect was noted for emotional valence. Self-reported arousal and sadness also were unaffected. Physiologically, inhibition resulted in fewer reductions in sympathetic (skin conductance) and parasympathetic (respiratory sinus arrhythmia) response following the analogue trauma, irrespective of film condition. No effects on heart period were noted. Results suggest that expressive inhibition following trauma exposure may inadvertently contribute to symptoms of flattened affect and increased arousal associated with posttraumatic numbing.