Feeling psychologically restrained: The effect of social exclusion on tonic immobility
SourceEuropean Journal of Psychotraumatology, 5, (2014), article 22928
Article / Letter to editor
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SW OZ BSI KLP
European Journal of Psychotraumatology
SubjectExperimental Psychopathology and Treatment
Background: A variety of studies have demonstrated posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms in victims of bullying. Because bullying with only relational aggression, such as social exclusion, does not involve physical aggression that could explain PTSD symptoms, it remains unclear why these relational aggression situations are also linked to PTSD symptoms. Objective: The aim of the present study was to investigate whether the fear-response tonic immobility (Ti) can occur during social exclusion. Since Ti, as an indicator of peritraumatic dissociation, is an important predictor of PTSD symptoms, we expected that the presence of Ti during social exclusion might contribute to possible explanations of PTSD symptoms in victims of relational aggression. Method: Social exclusion was manipulated by a virtual Cyberball game in which participants were excluded and included by virtual confederates. During the game, Ti was measured, both physiologically (heart rate) and psychologically (subjective symptoms). Also, the underlying concepts of Ti, high levels of fear and psychological restraint (threatened sense of control), were measured. Results: Excluded participants experienced higher levels of subjective and physiological Ti symptoms (lower heart rates) in comparison to social inclusion. Also, as expected, social exclusion resulted in higher levels of fear and psychological restraint in comparison to social inclusion. Conclusion: Social exclusion can evoke symptoms of Ti, fear, and psychological restraint, which might be important mechanisms to consider in explaining PTSD symptoms after relational forms of bullying in the absence of physical aggression. Limitations: The sample only contains healthy, female participants. Whether our results translate to bullying victims of relational aggression is therefore not known. Also, the physiological measurement of Ti (average heart rate) was rather limited and could be expanded in future studies.
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