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Full statistical mediation of the relationship between trauma and depressive symptoms


  • The authors would like to thank Alison Holman, Elizabeth Loftus and Philip Zimbardo for their help and ideas relating to the project; and to research assistants Natalie Ikker and Helen La Sala Angres of UC Irvine's Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP). Funding was provided in part by a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship (LP) and by UROP.


Owing to the potentially devastating effects of trauma-induced depression, explaining the relationship between trauma and depressive symptoms is important. In this study, we measured lifelong exposure to potentially traumatic events and depressive symptoms in 370-female undergraduates. We also measured anxiety, past negative time perspective and dissociation as potential mediators. Trauma exposure and depressive symptoms were related with a small but significant effect size (r = .16). Trauma was not associated with dissociation. We found that past negative time perspective and anxiety were full statistical mediators of this trauma-depressive symptoms relationship. These two mediators combined accounted for all of the variance in that association. Anxiety accounted for more of the variance than past negative time perspective. A proposed explanation is that trauma both affectively elevates anxiety and cognitively creates an enduring focus on the events. Chronic anxiety and a past negative time perspective may lead to depression over time. The clinical implications are possible explanations as to why some treatments work.