The role of automatic defensive responses in the development of posttraumatic stress symptoms in police recruits: Protocol of a prospective study
Number of pages
SourceEuropean Journal of Psychotraumatology, 8, 1, (2017), article 1412226
Article / Letter to editor
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PI Group Affective Neuroscience
SW OZ BSI KLP
European Journal of Psychotraumatology
Subject230 Affective Neuroscience; Experimental Psychopathology and Treatment
Background: Control over automatic tendencies is often compromised in challenging situations when people fall back on automatic defensive reactions, such as freeze-fight-flight responses. Stress-induced lack of control over automatic defensive responses constitutes a problem endemic to high-risk professions, such as the police. Difficulties controlling automatic defensive responses may not only impair split-second decisions under threat, but also increase the risk for and persistence of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms. However, the significance of these automatic defensive responses in the development and maintenance of trauma-related symptoms remains unclear due to a shortage of large-scale prospective studies. Objective: The 'Police-in-Action' study is conducted to investigate the role of automatic defensive responses in the development and maintenance of PTSD symptomatology after trauma exposure. Methods: In this prospective study, 340 police recruits from the Dutch Police Academy are tested before (wave 1; pre-exposure) and after (wave 2; post-exposure) their first emergency aid experiences as police officers. The two waves of data assessment are separated by approximately 15 months. To control for unspecific time effects, a well-matched control group of civilians (n = 85) is also tested twice, approximately 15 months apart, but without being frequently exposed to potentially traumatic events. Main outcomes are associations between (changes in) behavioural, psychophysiological, endocrine and neural markers of automatic defensive responses and development of trauma-related symptoms after trauma exposure in police recruits. Discussion: This prospective study in a large group of primary responders enables us to distinguish predisposing from acquired neurobiological abnormalities in automatic defensive responses, associated with the development of trauma-related symptoms. Identifying neurobiological correlates of (vulnerability for) trauma-related psychopathology may greatly improve screening for individuals at risk for developing PTSD symptomatology and offer valuable targets for (early preventive) interventions for PTSD.
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