Date of Award

2000

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Psychology

Faculty

Faculty of Community Services, Education and Social Sciences

First Advisor

Associate Professor Ed Helmes

Abstract

Recent empirical studies on individuals with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) report an association between PTSD and deficits in short-term verbal memory. While the previous studies utilised a global score of PTSD, the present study assessed the association of individual symptoms as a result of perceived traumatic events with verbal learning and memory deficits. In addition, the severity of the traumatic events was examined as well as gender, age, IQ, education and previous alcohol abuse and drug use. A sample of 148 adults reported to have experienced a traumatic event such as sexual or physical abuse ns children. war veterans, or other severe traumas were recruited from agencies and communities in Western Australia. Participants were administered an adaptation of the Trauma Symptom Inventory (TSI: Briere, 1995) to assess perceived symptoms associated with PTSD: intrusive experiences, defensive avoidance, anxious arousal, dissociation, depression and anger. The vocabulary subscale of the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale-Revised (WAIS-R; Wechsler, 1981) was used as the indicator for the level of lQ, while alcohol abuse was assessed using the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT; Babor, de Ia Fuenta & Saunders, 1992). Verbal learning and memory was assessed using the Rey Auditory Verbal Learning Test (RA VLT; Spreen & Strauss, 1991). A series of four hierarchical multiple regressions using sets of demographic, trauma severity and trauma symptom variables predicted four measures from the RAVLT: Trial I, sum of Trials l-5 for verbal learning and for verbal memory immediate and delayed recall trials. Firstly, it was found that the demographic factors of gender, age, IQ, education, alcohol and drug use accounted significantly for 24-32% of the variance for predicting verbal learning and 17-24% for verbal memory. Secondly, when the set of trauma severity factors (ie number of traumas, distress and duration) were included in step 2 of the hierarchical multiple regressions, n significant increase was found of 4-6% of the variance in predicting verbal learning and 2-4 %for predicting verbal memory. Thirdly, by partially out the set of demographic variables and the set of trauma severity variables, the set of trauma symptoms significantly increased the prediction by 2-3% of the variance for verbal learning and 5-6% of the verbal memory. Specifically, the symptoms of dissociation and anxious arousal contributed significantly to the prediction of immediate recall, while anxious arousal was the only significant trauma symptom for predicting delayed recall. Verbal learning and memory deficits may have serious implication in a number of settings in particular, children's early academic performance, for those seeking therapy, and in the court-room. Assessing dissociative symptoms associated with trauma may be a useful strategy for assisting individuals in the treatment of trauma intervention. One further recommendation is made to assess specific trauma symptoms rather than a global PTSD score.

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