Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Differences in HPA Axis Reactivity to Intimacy in Women With & Without Histories of Sexual Trauma

Sexual trauma can lead to longstanding effects on individuals' intimacy functioning. The current study aimed to assess hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis functioning (i.e., cortisol reactivity) prior to (-5min), during (+15, +30, +45min), and following (+60min) an experimental manipulation of emotional closeness in a sample of women survivors of sexual trauma with varying levels of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptomatology versus controls.

Participants included 50 women, which were divided into 2 groups on the basis of a structured clinical interview: 26 women with a history of sexual trauma with and without PTSD (sexual trauma group), and 24 women without a history of sexual trauma or PTSD (controls). Participants came into the lab and participated in a 45min emotional closeness exercise with a male confederate and completed self-report questionnaires of closeness, state anxiety/depression, and cortisol assays at the aforementioned time points.

Women with a history of sexual trauma exhibited a blunted cortisol response and greater anxious mood in reaction to the intimacy induction task compared to controls. Results also demonstrated that, unexpectedly, PTSD symptom severity scores among sexual trauma survivors were not associated with differential cortisol responding to the task compared to controls.

Adaptive responses to stress are characterized by a relatively rapid cortisol increase followed by a steady decline. The results of this study demonstrated that women with a history of sexual trauma, in contrast, displayed a blunted cortisol response to an intimacy induction task. Both controls and women with a history of sexual trauma reported increased feelings of closeness to the male confederate in response to the intimacy induction task, suggesting that survivors were able to achieve similar adaptive feelings of intimacy when provided with the right conditions.

Purchase full article at:   http://goo.gl/JPqBcP

  • 1VA Salt Lake City Health Care System, 500 Foothill Drive, Salt Lake City, Utah 84108, USA. Electronic address: amber.martinson@va.gov.
  • 2Mayo Clinic, 200 First St. SW, Rochester, Minnesota 55905, USA.
  • 3University of Maine, 301 Little Hall, Orono, Maine 04469, USA. 
  •  2015 Dec 24;65:118-126. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2015.12.025

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