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Veterans’ Offspring’s Personality Traits and the Intergenerational Transmission of Posttraumatic Stress Symptoms

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Abstract

Following war and war captivity, many combat veterans and former prisoners of war (ex-POWs) may suffer from posttraumatic psychopathologies, and these may be transmitted to their offspring. Though there are considerable individual differences between offspring in this respect, the mechanisms underlying such differences remain unclear. The current longitudinal study examined the role that veterans’ offspring’s Big Five personality traits may play within this intergenerational transmission. One hundred and twenty-three dyads consisting of veterans (79 ex-POWs and 44 combat veterans) and their adult offspring were examined. Fathers’ posttraumatic stress symptoms (PTSS) and global psychiatric distress (GD) were assessed 30 and 35 years after the war, and offspring’s PTSS, GD, and Big Five personality traits were assessed 40 years after the war. Findings indicate that veterans’ psychopathologies were associated with those of their offspring. Furthermore, analyses revealed significant positive associations between offspring’s psychopathologies and their Neuroticism, and negative associations with their Agreeableness and Conscientiousness. Finally, a mediation effect was found wherein the fathers’ PTSS and GD were related to their offspring’s Neuroticism levels, and the offspring’s Neuroticism was related to their PTSS and GD levels. These findings suggest that offspring’s personality traits may indeed play a role in the transmission of posttraumatic psychopathologies from veterans to their offspring, and may explain individual differences in this respect. Specifically, high levels of Neuroticism may place offspring at risk for secondary traumatization. Possible explanations and limitations are discussed, and future research directions are suggested.

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Author Contributions

J.Y.S. was responsible for the preparation of the manuscript and the integration of all components of the study. Y.L. was responsible for the statistical analyses and the drafting of the “Method” and “Results” sections. G.Z. was responsible for the collection of offspring’s data, the initial conceptualization of the study, and suggestions concerning the manuscript throughout its drafting. Z.S. was the leading researcher and lab manager, supervised the entire study, and made significant recommendations for the drafting of the manuscript.

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The study was supported by the I-CORE Program of the Planning and Budgeting Committee and The Israel Science Foundation (grant No 1916/12).

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Correspondence to Jacob Y. Stein.

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All procedures performed in this study were in accordance with the ethical standards of both Tel-Aviv University and Ariel University Ethics Committees.

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Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

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Stein, J.Y., Levin, Y., Zerach, G. et al. Veterans’ Offspring’s Personality Traits and the Intergenerational Transmission of Posttraumatic Stress Symptoms. J Child Fam Stud 27, 1162–1174 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-017-0951-x

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