An experimental trauma film study to investigate to investigate the role of peri-traumatic cognitive processing on post-event PTSD symptoms and trauma memory

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Clinical Psychology


BACKGROUND: In recent years there has been emerging empirical support for the
hypothesis that the mode of processing adopted in relation to trauma can impact
upon outcomes in trauma-exposed individuals. Specifically “abstract” and
“concrete” cognitive processing styles have been found to exert negative and
positive outcomes respectively. However, at present the mechanisms by which
these processing modes exert their effects on outcomes remains unclear.
OBJECTIVES: By means of a systematic narrative review, we investigated the
effects of “abstract” and “concrete” cognitive processing styles on outcomes in
trauma-exposed individuals, and looked for evidence of the possible mechanisms
by which these processing modes may be operating.
METHODS: A systematic search was conducted using MEDLINE, EMBASE and
PsycINFO databases. Studies were eligible for inclusion if they were published in a
peer-reviewed journal, conducted on an adult population, included exposure to a
trauma or an analogue trauma/stressor, as well as containing a manipulation or
measurement of either “abstract” or “concrete” processing.
RESULTS: 12 articles were included in the review, providing data from 14 studies.
Eight studies were experimental in design, four were cross-sectional and two were
longitudinal. Abstract processing was shown to lower mood, increase intrusions
and levels of arousal.
CONCLUSIONS: Abstract processing may be a cognitive avoidance strategy, which
hinders the emotional processing of trauma, and thus perpetuates traumatic
symptoms. Future studies should examine the effects of processing mode on
appraisals of and memory for the trauma in order to shed further light on this
cognitive processing mechanism.
Date of Award2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorJennifer Wild (Supervisor) & Patrick Smith (Supervisor)

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