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Cognitive Complexity in Response to Traumatic Experiences



Abstract Two studies examined how personality motives influence the perception of traumatic events in memory and how such perception may be linked to psychological distress. Participants completed implicit and explicit measures of agentic and communal motives. In Study 1, participants living in New York City at the time of the terrorist attacks wrote their thoughts and feelings about the events of September 11th. In Study 2, participants wrote about a personally traumatic experience. In both studies, they also completed questionnaires on psychological symptoms and stress-related growth. The memories were then scored for differentiation and integration. Agentic motives correlated with differentiated perceptions and differentiation was linked to dissociative symptoms in Study 2. Communal motives related to integrated perceptions, and integration related to stress-related growth in both studies. Findings suggest that motives play a significant role in the perception of traumatic and difficult experiences and that these perceptions may be differentially linked to psychological impact.