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Considering PTSD from the perspective of brain processes: A psychological construction approach


  • Michael K. Suvak,

    1. VA National Center for PTSD, VA Boston Healthcare System
    Current affiliation:
    1. Women's Health Sciences Division, VA National Center for PTSD, VA Boston Healthcare System.
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  • Lisa Feldman Barrett

    Corresponding author
    1. Northeastern University and Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School
    Current affiliation:
    1. Department of Psychology, Northeastern University, and Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School.
    • Department of Psychology, Northeastern University, Boston, MA 02115.
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  • Many thanks to Paul Gade and Danny Kaloupek for commenting on earlier drafts of this manuscript. Preparation of this manuscript was supported by the National Institutes of Health Director's Pioneer Award (DP1OD003312), a grant from the National Institute of Aging (AG030311), and a contract with the U.S. Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences (W91WAW-08-C-0018) to Lisa Feldman Barrett. The views, opinions, and/or findings contained in this article are solely those of the author(s) and should not be construed as an official Department of the Army or DOD position, policy, or decision, unless so designated by other documentation.


Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a complex psychiatric disorder that involves symptoms from various domains that appear to be produced by the combination of several mechanisms. The authors contend that existing neural accounts fail to provide a viable model that explains the emergence and maintenance of PTSD and the associated heterogeneity in the expression of this disorder (cf. Garfinkel & Liberzon, 2009). They introduce a psychological construction approach as a novel framework to probe the brain basis of PTSD, where distributed networks within the human brain are thought to correspond to the basic psychological ingredients of the mind. The authors posit that it is the combination of these ingredients that produces the heterogeneous symptom clusters in PTSD. Their goal is show that a constructionist approach has significant heuristic value in understanding the emergence and maintenance of PTSD symptoms, and leads to different and perhaps more useful conjectures about the origins and maintenance of the syndrome than the traditional hyperreactive fear account.