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Keywords:

  • posttraumatic stress disorder;
  • childhood sexual abuse;
  • psychophysiology;
  • females

Abstract

This study examined psychophysiological reactivity in 37 female childhood sexual abuse (CSA) survivors. After assessment of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), psychiatric comorbidity, and trauma history, we conducted a psychophysiological assessment of forehead muscle tension, electrodermal activity, and heart rate during a mental arithmetic task and 4 script-driven imagery tasks (neutral, consensual sex, pleasant, and trauma). PTSD symptom severity correlated positively with psychophysiologic changes and negative emotions during the trauma imagery task. During mental arithmetic, PTSD symptom severity correlated negatively with autonomic changes and positively with negative emotions. These results extend earlier PTSD research showing trauma-specific increased psychophysiological reactivity related to CSA in women with PTSD. They further suggest a negative association between PTSD severity and autonomic reactions to mental arithmetic.