Project Title: Actual and simulatated trauma exercises: Investigation of threshold for psychological trauma

Faculty Sponsor: Thomas Wrobel

Department: Psychology

Telephone: 810.762.3424


Project Description: 

The witnessing of an event in which someone either loses their life, or in which a life is apparently threatened is one of the essential diagnostic criteria for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as well as Acute Stress Disorder (ASD) according to the DSM-5.  ASD first appeared in the DSM-IV as a separate diagnosis (APA, 1994).  Its unique position as being defined in the context of PTSD which have led some to question the existence of the diagnosis [citation] Not everyone who is exposed to or witnesses a traumatic event, however, goes on to develop PTSD.

Researchers have attempted to delineate which witnesses are at highest risk for later PTSD symptoms.  Richard Bryant (2003) in analyzing ten prospective studies of PTSD and ASD argues that treatment shortly following exposure to a trauma may reduce the occurrence of long-term effects even more than the typical course of recovery.  Those particularly at risk, according to Bryant, are those who have initial ASD symptoms, while there does not appear to be any particular symptom or group of symptoms predictive of later PTSD. Elsewhere, Bryant and Guthrie (2007) have emphasized the role negative appraisals, particularly negative appraisals of the self,  play in the development of PTSD symptoms following trauma.

The present studies seek to establish a baseline of psychological responses along the verisimilitude continuum beginning with an exercise testing building lockdown capabilities through an anonymous survey of those affected by the exercise to a survey of a neighborhood where a fatal explosion occurred.  Assessment of the rate of occurrence for ASD and PTSD symptoms following minimal simulated threat and then again in response to the actual trauma is to be studied.  Such a series of assessments will provide evidence for the degree of psychological consequences if present, and if present, the degree of perceived threat necessary to increase the symptoms dependent on the event . Method Participants.  Participants were recruited from among staff members and students at a public, urban university and from neighbors proximate to an explosion which occurred in a suburban neighborhood.


Demographic questions regarding age, gender, marital status, race/ethnicity and education.

Six Likert-style items on the experience of the exercise (e.g. “The exercise was well-run.”  “ I am reassured that the exercise took place.”) Acute Stress Disorder Scale. (Bryant, 2000).  The ASDS is a 19-item scale in which raters report the occurrence of ASD symptoms from 1 "Not at all" to 5 "Very Much".

PTSD CheckList--Civilian Version (PCL-C). The PCL-C is a 17 item questionnaire corresponding to the symptoms of PTSD applied to any traumatic event.  The items are rated from 1 "not at all" to 5 "extremely" and are grouped into the DSM PTSD criteria.

Social Support Scale. Six questions assessing available social support previously used by Huang, Chen, Mao, Huang, Chang and Wang (2011) were also included.

Measures are administered online.

Student Tasks & Responsibilities: Student will be involved in literature search online and in the library; collection of data on and off campus:  data entry; data analysis and other tasks supportive of the ongoing project.

Minimum Qualifications: Psychology major.  A course in statistics and methodology is required.  Computer skills highly desirable.