Publication Date


Advisor(s) - Committee Chair

Dr. Sarah A. Ostrowski (Director), Dr. Andrew Mienaltowski, Dr. Frederick G. Grieve

Degree Program

Department of Psychology

Degree Type

Master of Arts


The present study examined the impact of posttraumatic stress symptoms (PTSS) on adults’ ability to discriminate between various facial expressions of emotions. Additionally, the study examined whether individuals reporting PTSS exhibited an attentional bias toward threat-related facial expressions of emotions. The research design was a 2 (expression intensity) x 3 (emotional pairing) x 2 (PTSS group) mixed-model factorial design. Participants for the study were 89 undergraduates recruited from psychology courses at Western Kentucky University. Participants completed the Traumatic Stress Schedule to assess for prior exposure to traumatic events. A median split was used to divide the sample into two groups (i.e., low and high PTSS). Additionally, participants also completed a demographics questionnaire, the Impact of Events Scale-Revised, the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale, and the Depression Anxiety Stress Scales to assess for possible covariates. Then, participants completed the discrimination of facial expressions task and the dot probe position task. Results indicate that individuals experiencing high levels of PTSS have difficulty discriminating between threatening and non-threatening facial expressions of emotions; additionally, these individuals’ difficulty is exacerbated by comorbid levels of anxiety symptoms. Furthermore, results suggests these individuals focus attention on threatening facial expressions while avoiding expressions that may activate memories associated with the prior trauma. These findings have significant clinical implications, as clinicians could focus treatment on correcting these difficulties which should help promote more beneficial social interactions for these individuals experiencing high levels of PTSS. Additionally, these behavioral measures could be used to assess the effectiveness of treatment. Effective treatment should help alleviate these difficulties, which could be measured by improved performance on the discrimination of facial expressions task and the dot probe position task from baseline to post-treatment.


Health Psychology | Personality and Social Contexts | Social Psychology