Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy



Date of Defense


Graduate Advisor

Steven E. Bruce, Ph.D.


Tara Galovski, Ph.D.

Michael Griffin, Ph.D.

David Klinger, Ph.D.


DSM symptoms of emotional numbing appear to have a major impact on the course and outcome of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), yet the construct definition of emotional numbing itself has not been clearly established. Two opposing conceptualizations of this construct have been proposed in the traumatic stress literature. One holds numbing to be a form of non-effortful emotional avoidance, akin to dissociation, that results in diminished responsiveness to emotional stimuli in general (Foa, Zinbarg, & Rothbaum, 1992; Foa & Hearst-Ikeda, 1996). The other suggests that numbing entails a deficit in responsiveness to positive emotional stimuli but not to negative emotional stimuli (Litz, Orsillo, Kaloupek, & Weathers, 2000; Litz & Gray, 2002). In fact, the latter conceptualization suggests that symptoms of emotional numbing are related to augmented responsiveness to negative emotional stimuli. Research to date has yet to establish whether DSM symptoms of emotional numbing are associated with either of these hypothesized emotional response patterns. The current study examined subjective, psychophysiological, and expressive-motor indices of emotional responses to a series of emotionally evocative visual stimuli in 52 adult female sexual assault victims seeking treatment for current PTSD. Results indicated there was little variation in affective responses associated with the degree of emotional numbing symptom severity endorsed by participants. Findings are discussed in terms of their implications for future research aimed at clarifying the construct of emotional numbing.

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