Posttraumatic stress disorder: A sensitization reaction
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This article discusses past research bearing on the question of the etiology of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It argues that PTSD can be adequately accounted for by a process of emotional sensitization and that this is a more parsimonious explanation than the two-factor learning theory of Mowrer, now postulated by several writers. In brief, the etiology and subsequent development of PTSD is viewed as the result of the sensitization of fear/anxiety which is linked to a variety of to be conditional stimuli by both backward and forward association: these become conditional stimuli (CSi) once paired with the instigating circumstances. It is furthermore assumed that PTSD will not occur in the absence of a genetic susceptibility that may vary from zero to absolute certainty. Thus far, our evidence is limited to a sensitivity to loud sounds, but it is highly probable that touch and other sensory systems are involved (not necessarily in parallel). The fact that abuse often leads to behavioral disorders, including sexually seductive behaviors in children sexually abused, requires a recognition that emotional reactions other than fear may be sensitized. Fear in combination with pleasure or pleasure alone coupled with a loss of self-esteem may explain these acting-out behaviors.
Key WordsPosttraumatic Stress Disorder Sensitization Autonomic Conditioning Abuse and Neglect
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