Individuals with PTSD More Fearful of Different Races

The most common psychological problem resulting from a trauma is posttraumatic stress (PTSD). Not everyone that experiences a traumatic event will develop PTSD, but those who do often have difficulty distinguishing perceived threats from actual threats. They are overly sensitive to threatening stimuli and exhibit challenges identifying emotions and facial expressions. These responses are well documented and have been proven in numerous studies. However, until recently, understanding how race affects threat response in individuals with PTSD is less known. N. Fani of the Department of Psychology at Georgia State University in Atlanta wanted to get a clearer picture of how individuals with PTSD respond to threatening stimuli by race.

Fani led a study that looked at 39 individuals with PTSD and 25 individuals who had experienced trauma but did not develop PTSD. The majority of the participants were African-American (AA) women, and the remainder were Caucasian (C). The participants were assessed using the Traumatic Events Interview, the PTSD Symptom Scale, and the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire. They were then presented pictures of AA and C faces demonstrating a range of emotions and were asked to report their perception of threat. The study revealed that the individuals with PTSD were much more likely to perceive threat than those without PTSD. Additionally, the most threatening faces to the AA participants were the C faces, regardless of whether or not they actually depicted threat.

The findings suggest that individuals have an attention bias toward faces that are different than their own. Because minority individuals tend to dwell in communities that are racially similar, they may view other races as different, and in those with PTSD, this difference could be overstated by a heightened sensitivity to threat. The bias demonstrated in the PTSD participants could negatively exacerbate their symptoms and perpetuate the fear and anxiety associated with PTSD. For the individuals without PTSD, the study revealed no racial bias toward threat, in either the AA or C participants or the AA or C pictures. Fani believes that understanding how race influences bias in individuals with PTSD is imperative for designing interventions. Fani said, “By elucidating the nature and direction of the associations between these processes in PTSD, future treatments can be manipulated to better target and correct these processes.”

Fani, N., Tone, E.B., Phifer, J., Norrholm, S.D., Bradley, B., Ressler, K. J., Kamkwalala, A., Jovanovic, T. Attention Bias Toward Threat Is Associated with Exaggerated Fear Expression and Impaired Extinction in PTSD. Psychological Medicine 42.3 (2012): 533-43. Print.

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The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Charla G

    Charla G

    March 10th, 2012 at 8:03 AM

    So here we have a disorder like PTSD and that causes you to be more anxious and have a more heightened sense of awareness and anxiety to begin with. And then you add to that the thing that maybe deep down inside that they are the most afraid of, and in this case it happens to be race, so the threat is perceived to be greater when it involves someone of a different race. I can see how this could come into play.

  • Juan


    March 10th, 2012 at 10:34 AM

    Ok I guess this is good to find it out.
    But do we need any more excuses to remain fearful of other races?
    Isn’t there enough of that fear and hatred already?
    Let’s not do anything or say anything that will give someone with hateful attitudes some kind of excuse to think that this is okay.

  • Melissa


    March 10th, 2012 at 1:17 PM

    Well, this is a lot of work to fix all of that! You would not only have to address the problem with the post traumatic stress, but then you have to go about trying to reeducate someone in the realm of something that is often so deeply ingrained that it would be difficult to make any head way!

  • simon


    March 11th, 2012 at 5:19 AM

    I started to comment on whether it was born out of fear or haterd but I suppose at the core of it all they are the same thing,eh?

  • Julie


    March 11th, 2012 at 11:19 AM

    Just wonder how this study would go if you used children who were abused by their early caregivers and then adopted into homes where their parents were of a different race than they were. Would the children be more anxious around people of the adoptive parent’s race or around those who would evoke the early memories of abuse? And how can this knowledge be applied in interracial adoptions?

  • Morgan


    March 11th, 2012 at 11:13 PM

    I can see where this is coming from-segregation.If everybody grows up in a neighborhood with people of different races then this problem will not occur.

  • Nona


    March 12th, 2012 at 4:19 AM

    makes me sad
    know that some things beyond control but this one seems like you could get past
    guess not

  • Boomzy


    March 12th, 2012 at 2:09 PM

    Just because someone experiences anxiety around people of a different race, doesn’t mean that they are hateful or bigoted towards that race. If a women is raped by a man and now gets anxious when around men, it doesn’t mean that she is hateful; it means that she is scared. Yes fear can lead to hate, but one doesn’t always mean the other.

    Also, you have to take into account that we don’t know how many of these people with PTSD had been in the military and if so, the “enemy” was most likely of a different race than them, which I can definitely see creating an association of people of different races with a threat. There could definitely be other factors coming into play here.

  • Dot P

    Dot P

    March 12th, 2012 at 4:02 PM

    Sure is hard to leave some of those old prejudices and fears behind when this is all you have ever heard and been told, and maybe even experienced.

    Looks like a therapist though would have to first help patient get some of that fear and anxiety under control and teach them how to better manage that so it does not become so severe. Then he can work with patient to get to what some of those triggers for that behavior are.

  • Samantha Jennings

    Samantha Jennings

    March 12th, 2012 at 11:08 PM

    Let us look beyond the obvious. Does this mean people who grow up in a muti-racial society and more specifically neighborhood have any advantages over those that don’t? Would they be less prone to being racist than others?

  • campbell


    March 14th, 2012 at 10:57 AM

    to me just another excuse to continue hating what we don’t know or understand/

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