Journal of Traumatic Stress

, Volume 4, Issue 3, pp 363–380 | Cite as

An adaptational view of trauma response as illustrated by the prisoner of war experience

  • Raina E. Eberly
  • Allan R. Harkness
  • Brian E. Engdahl


We propose a model of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms in which they have positive evolutionary adaptational value in traumatic environments. The persistence of PTSD symptoms following return to more benign environments may result from biological changes within the organism, reflected by a primary response of increased levels of underlying traits such as Negative Affectivity. Secondary symptoms such as social withdrawal and substance abuse are conceptualized as subsequent coping with the primary trauma response. This model was tested using data on 413 former World War II Prisoners of War (POWs). The results were consistent with the model, indicating an enduring high level of Negative Affectivity as measured by scales on the MMPI. Capitivity severity scores, developed using a factor analysis of POW experience variables, were related to lifetime and current diagnoses of PTSD, generalized anxiety disorder, and major or minor depression. They were not related to schizophrenia, alcohol abuse/dependence, bipolar I and II disorders, or organic mental disorders. Elevated Negative Affectivity indicators were proportional to the captivity severity scores.

Key words

evolutionary adaptation prisoners of war negative affectivity post-traumatic stress disorder 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. American Psychiatric Association (1980).Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (third edition), American Psychiatric Press, Washington, D.C.Google Scholar
  2. American Psychiatric Association (1987).Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (third edition rev.), American Psychiatric Press, Washington, D.C.Google Scholar
  3. Beebe, G. W. (1975). Follow-up studies of World War II and Korean War prisoners, II: Morbidity, disability, and maladjustments.Am. J. Epidemiol. 101: 400–422.Google Scholar
  4. Bowlby, J. (1969).Attachment Basic Books, New York.Google Scholar
  5. Cohen, B. M., and Cooper, M. Z. (1954).A follow-up study of World War II prisoners of war (Veterans Administration Medical Monograph. Department of Veterans Affairs, Washington, D.C.Google Scholar
  6. Colligan, R. C., Osborne, D., Swenson, W. M., and Offord, K. P. (1984). The MMPI: development of contemporary norms.J. Clin. Psychol. 40: 100–107.Google Scholar
  7. Engdahl, B. E., and Eberly, R. E. (1990). The effects of torture and other captivity maltreatment: Implications for psychology. In Suedfeld, P. (ed.),Psychology and Torture, Hemisphere Press, Washington, D.C., pp. 31–48.Google Scholar
  8. Engdahl, B. E., Speed, N., Eberly, R. E., and Schwartz, J. (1991). Comorbidity of psychiatric disorders and personality profiles of American World War II prisoners of war.J. Nerv. Ment. Dis., 179: 181–187.Google Scholar
  9. Eysenck, H. J., and Eysenck, S. B. G. (1968).Manual for the Eysenck Personality Inventory, Educational and Industrial Testing Service, San Diego, Calif.Google Scholar
  10. Grinker, R. R., and Spiegel, J. P. (1945).Men under Stress, Blakiston, Philadelphia.Google Scholar
  11. Kardiner, A. (1941).The Traumatic Neuroses of War, Psychosomatic Medicine Monograph, Paul Hoeber, New York.Google Scholar
  12. Kluznik, J. C., Speed, N., Van Valkenburg, C., and Magraw, R. (1986). Forty-year follow-up of United States prisoners of war.Am. J. Psychiat. 143: 1443–1445.Google Scholar
  13. Kolb, L. C. (1987). A neuropsychological hypothesis explaining posttraumatic stress disorders.Am. J. Psychiat. 144: 989–995.Google Scholar
  14. Konner, M. (1972).The Tangled Wing: Biological Constraints on the Human Spirit. Harper and Row, New York.Google Scholar
  15. Lee, R. B., and Devore, I. (eds.) (1976).Kalahari Hunter-Gathers, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass.Google Scholar
  16. Nichols, D. S. (1987). Interpreting the Wiggings MMPI content scales. In Moreland, K. L., and Butcher, J. N. (eds.),Clinical Notes on the MMPI (Number 10), National Computer Systems, Minneapolis, Minn.Google Scholar
  17. Ross, J. R., Ball, W. A., Sullivan, K. A., and Caroff, S. N. (1989). Sleep disturbance as the hallmark of posttraumatic stress disorder.Am. J. Psychiat. 146: 697–707.Google Scholar
  18. Speed, N., Engdahl, B. E., Schwartz, J., and Eberly, R. E. (1989). Posttraumatic stress disorder as a consequence of the prisoner of war experience.J. Nerv. Ment. Dis. 177: 147–153.Google Scholar
  19. Spitzer, R. L., and Endicott, J. (1979).Schedule for Affective Disorders and Schizophrenia ÇM (third edition), New York State Psychiatric Institute, Biometrics Research, New York.Google Scholar
  20. Spitzer, R., Endicott, J., and Robins, E. (1978). Research diagnostic criteria: Rationale and reliability.Arch. Gen. Psychiat. 35: 773–782.Google Scholar
  21. Stenger, C. A. (1990).American prisoners of war in WWI, WWII, Korea, and Viet Nam, Veterans Administration Advisory Committee on Former Prisoners of War, Department of Medicine and Surgery, VA Central Office, Washington, D.C.Google Scholar
  22. Sutker, P. B., Allain, A. N., and Motsinger, P. A. (1988). Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI)-derived psychopathology subtypes among former prisoners of war (POWs): Replication and extension.J. Psychopathol. Behav. Assess. 10: 129–140.Google Scholar
  23. Sutker, P. B., Winstead, D. K., Goist, K. C., Malow, R. M., and Allain, A. N. (1986). Psychopathology subtypes and symptom correlates among former prisoners of war.J. Psychopathol. Behav. Assess. 8: 89–110.Google Scholar
  24. Tellegen, A. (in press). Personality traits: Issues of definition, evidence, and assessment. In Cicchetti, D., and Grove, W. (eds.),Thinking Clearly about Psychology: Essays in Honor of Paul Everett Meehl, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, Minn.Google Scholar
  25. Tellegen, A., Lykken, D. T., Bouchard, T. J. Jr., Wilcox, K. J., Segal, N. L., and Rich, S. (1988). Personality similarity in twins reared apart and together.J. Personality Social Psychol. 54: 1031–1039.Google Scholar
  26. Tellegen, A. (1985). Structures of mood and personality and their relevance to assessing anxiety, with an emphasis on self-report. In Tuma, A. H., and Maser, J. D. (eds.),Anxiety and the Anxiety Disorders, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Hillsdale, N.J., pp. 681–716.Google Scholar
  27. Tellegen, A. (1982).Brief Manual of the Multidimensional Personality Questionnaire, Unpublished manuscript, University of Minnesota, Minn.Google Scholar
  28. Tennant, C. C., Goulston, K. J., and Dent, O. F. (1986). Clinical psychiatric illness in prisoners of war of the Japanese: Forty years after release.Psychol. Med. 16: 833–839.Google Scholar
  29. Ursano, R. J., Boydstun, J. A., and Wheatley, R. D. (1981). Psychiatric illness in U.S. Air Force Viet Nam prisoners of war: A five-year follow-up.Am. J. Psychiat. 138: 310–314.Google Scholar
  30. Veterans Administration (August 23, 1988). Office of Clinical Affairs letter (#IL 11-88-13), Washington, D.C.Google Scholar
  31. Watson, D., and Clark, L. A. (1984). Negative affectivity: The disposition to experience aversive emotional states.Psychol. Bull. 96: 465–490.Google Scholar
  32. Watson, D., Clark, L. A., and Carey, G. (1988). Positive and negative affectivity and their relation to anxiety and depressive disorders.J. Abnorm. Psychol. 97: 346–353.Google Scholar
  33. Welsh, G. S. (1956). Factor dimensions A and R. In Welsh, G. S. and Dahlstrom, W. G. (eds.),Basic Readings on the MMPI in Psychology and Medicine, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, Minn., pp. 264–281.Google Scholar
  34. Wiggins, J. S. (1966). Substantive dimensions of self-report in the MMPI item pool.Psychol. Monographs, 80: 22, Whole No. 630. (Reprinted in Dahlstrom, W. G., and Dahlstrom, L. E. (eds.),Basic Readings on the MMPI: A New Selection on Personality Measurement, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, Minn.)Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1991

Authors and Affiliations

  • Raina E. Eberly
    • 1
  • Allan R. Harkness
    • 2
  • Brian E. Engdahl
    • 1
  1. 1.Psychology ServiceDepartment of Veterans Affairs Medical CenterMinneapolis
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of TulsaTulsa

Personalised recommendations