Those with PTSD May Have Impaired Emotional Regulation

Individuals have different reactions to trauma. People who have experienced significant childhood trauma, including childhood sexual abuse, physical abuse, or emotional abuse may develop serious psychological problems as a result. Some people who suffer the loss of a loved one can develop symptoms of depression and children of depressed parents may have impaired ability to express their emotions, leading to externalizing or internalizing behaviors. When trauma affects daily functioning and leads to extreme anxiety, it can be seen as a predictor of posttraumatic stress (PTSD). And although it has been well established that people with PTSD have decreased emotional regulation via hyper-vigilant threat bias and limited brain region accessibility, it is less clear whether these same deficits are present in individuals without PTSD who have experienced trauma.

Karina. S. Blair of the National Institute of Mental Health and the Department of Health and Human Services in Maryland recently conducted a study to determine the difference in parietal and frontal cortex accessibility in individuals with and without PTSD. Blair performed MRIs on 14 trauma-exposed individuals without PTSD, 14 with PTSD and 19 nonclinical participants who were not exposed to trauma. She measured their brain activity while they performed attention tasks using the Stroop test and found that there were significant differences between the groups. Specifically, the individuals with PTSD had difficulty performing the task when compared to the non-PTSD and control groups. They had limited accessibility to certain regions of the brain responsible for emotion regulation. However, other regions caused overstimulation of attention, which when focused on threat could perpetuate symptoms of PTSD.

When Blair looked at the control group, she found more cortex accessibility and better performance on the Stroop. But surprisingly, the non-PTSD trauma exposed group had enhanced, not diminished levels of cortex accessibility and brain recruitment during the Stroop task. “These regions of the lateral superior and inferior frontal cortices and parietal cortex are repeatedly implicated in emotional regulation,” said Blair. Perhaps this enhanced recruitment acted as a buffer, insulating individuals exposed to trauma from developing symptoms of PTSD. Blair believes that although this finding has positive implications, more work needs to be done in this area to determine how to prevent or decrease PTSD in individuals who have experienced trauma.

Blair, K. S., et al. (2013). Cognitive control of attention is differentially affected in trauma-exposed individuals with and without post-traumatic stress disorder. Psychological Medicine 43.1 (2013): 85-95. ProQuest. Web.

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  • Lonnie

    March 23rd, 2013 at 6:36 AM

    This shows to be very promising for those who have to live with the fears that PTSD causes. I can’t imagine being subjected to something so terrible that it comes back again and again to hurt me. I hope that these findings give those who live with this as well as their families much hope for a cure and healing.

  • logan g

    March 25th, 2013 at 3:50 AM

    Being able to regulate one’s emotions in a safe way would go hand in hand with good overall health.
    It is quite clear that someone who suffers from PTSD would suffer from this. If they were able to regulate how they are feeling in a way that was healthier then I think that it is obvious that PTSD wouldn’t be something that they struggle with
    Maybe just knowing this and bringing this to the forefront will help their providers better with their treatment

  • valentin

    March 25th, 2013 at 1:26 PM

    impaired emotional regulation can wreck havoc in one’s life. it can affect all relationships of the person and can bring in so much stress and pressure.

    but the fact that those with traumatic experience but without PTSD had enhanced cortex accessibility is promising. if we could somehow reverse the effects of the trauma-induced PTSD to an extent then maybe a reversal would occur in terms of cortex accessibility as well. now that would be a major breakthrough wouldn’t it?


    March 27th, 2013 at 12:50 AM


  • Mike

    October 21st, 2022 at 10:56 PM

    I have had trouble managing my anger and my over reactions to difficult situations all my life. I have diagnosed myself with complex PTSD from prolonged childhood physical abuse. I’m pretty sure my trauma is the reason I have such poor emotional regulation skills. I’m not sure how I have survived to old age with all my mental health issues, but it hasn’t been easy. Depression, anxiety and worst of all insomnia are my constant companions.

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