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COGNITIVE ABNORMALITIES IN POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER. McNally 2006. Some Basic Background. PTSD is an anxiety disorder that develops usually in response to an overwhelmingly terrifying, often life-threatening event
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-also found PTSD participants to exhibit heightened amygdala responses
- Findings are supported with evidence from twin studies
For example, Southwick et al. (1997) concluded that veterans with higher PTSD scores “tend to amplify their memory for traumatic events over time”
Two main problem areas in studying Vietnam
Men who claim to be suffering from combat related PTSD but who either never saw combat, never served in Vietnam, or never served in the military at all.
Burkett and Whitley believe that many studies of combat-related PTSD are contaminated by the inadvertent inclusion of subjects who have lied about their combat trauma
For example: Keane et al (1998)
Several studies (e.g. Macklim et al 1998 & Silva et al 2000) suggest that above average cognitive ability may enhance an individual’s ability to cope with stressors thereby buffering them against developing PTSD.
However, a study showed that urinary cortisol levels were the same in Vietnam veterans and controls and yet hippocampal damage can only occur in conditions of prolonged high levels of cortisol.
Brown et al. (1998)
“Approximately a third of sexually abused victims report some period of their lives where they did not remember anything about the abuse and later recovered the memory of the abuse”
i.e. they have repressed the event
- DSM-III symptoms of non-specific memory impairment
- Dollinger (1985) – lightning strike study
- Wagenaar & Groeneweg (1990) – Nazi Holocaust Camp experiences
- Williams (1994) & Femina et al (1990) – Sexual Abuse example
McNally states that it is not repressed memory that is occurring in these cases but memories being recovered…
Biased – Why?
McNally performed a study on 4 participant groups and found:
“repressed and recovered memory subjects do not exhibit a superior ability to forget trauma-related words on a directed forgetting task, contrary to hypothesis that they ought to be superior at blocking out memory for material related to abuse”
Is this really proof against Brown et al’s recognition of repressed memories in sexual abuse cases?
This example highlights the balance that must be maintained between science and politics..