Attention bias variability and posttraumatic stress symptoms: the mediating role of emotion regulation difficulties

Growing literature has linked attention bias variability (ABV) to the experience and treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Unlike assessments of attention bias in only one direction, ABV captures dynamic fluctuations in attention toward and away from threat. While mechanisms underlying the ABV-PTSD relations are unclear, some research implicates emotion regulation difficulties. The current study examined in community women with varying PTSD symptom severity, the amount of variance in the association between ABV and PTSD accounted for by emotion regulation difficulties. The full sample (N = 74) was comprised of 59% community women with PTSD due to domestic and/or sexual violence, and 41% community women without PTSD. All participants completed self-report questionnaires including the Difficulties in Emotion Regulation Scale-16, which assessed emotion regulation. ABV was calculated following a computerised dot probe task. The indirect effect of ABV on PTSD symptom severity through emotion regulation difficulties was statistically significant, while the direct effect between ABV and PTSD symptom severity was not significant. Findings replicated after controlling for total trauma exposure. Clinical implications and literature suggesting how ABV may perpetuate emotion regulation difficulties associated with PTSD symptomology are discussed.

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