Negative and positive emotional complexity in the autobiographical representations of sexual trauma survivors

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Abstract

This study examined the diversity of experienced positive and negative emotions – emodiversity – within two existing datasets involving female survivors of sexual abuse and assault, who all met criteria for chronic Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as well as a diversity of comorbid diagnoses. Study 1 investigated the structure of the self-concept and Study 2 explored the organization of past autobiographical knowledge. In each study, we measured emodiversity for positive and negative emotion constructs in the trauma sample, relative to healthy control participants with no history of sexual trauma or PTSD. Results confirmed our hypotheses that individuals with a severe sexual trauma history and resultant PTSD would show elevated negative emodiversity and reduced positive diversity across both the structure of the self-concept and the structure of the life narrative, relative to control participants. The current results differ from community studies where greater negative emodiversity is associated with better mental health but mirror those from a prior study with individuals with Major Depressive Disorder. This suggests that valence-based differences in emodiversity may result from chronic emotional disturbance.

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Clifford, G., Hitchcock, C., & Dalgleish, T. (2020). Negative and positive emotional complexity in the autobiographical representations of sexual trauma survivors. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 126. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.brat.2020.103551

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