Fear-potentiated startle and posttraumatic stress symptoms in urban police officers

Authors

  • Nnamdi Pole,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Psychiatry, University of California, San Francisco
    • Department of Psychology, University of Michigan, 2260 East Hall, 525 East University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109-1109
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  • Thomas C. Neylan,

    1. Department of Psychiatry, University of California, San Francisco
    2. Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, San Francisco, California
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  • Suzanne R. Best,

    1. Department of Psychiatry, University of California, San Francisco
    2. Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, San Francisco, California
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  • Scott P. Orr,

    1. Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, San Francisco, California
    2. Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts
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  • Charles R. Marmar

    1. Department of Psychiatry, University of California, San Francisco
    2. Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, San Francisco, California
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Abstract

We studied the effects of increasing threat conditions on self-reported emotion, eyeblink electromyogram, and skin conductance responses to startling sounds in 55 police officers who endorsed a range of PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder) symptoms. We found that contextual threat affected both physiologic and self-reported emotional responses. Greater PTSD symptom severity was related to greater physiologic responses under the low and medium but not under the high threat condition. The relationship between PTSD symptoms and physiologic responses was neither explained by self-reported emotional responses nor preexisting reported exaggerated startle symptoms. Our results emphasize the importance of contextual threat and suggest that laboratory measures of startle improve upon self-reported exaggerated startle alone in indexing PTSD symptom severity in urban police officers.

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