PTSD Lacks Social Cognitive Research

Have you ever witnessed or been the victim of a traumatic event? Did you experience intense fear, helplessness or horror? Do you have recurrent, intrusive thoughts or perceptions of the event? Do you reexperience the event? Do you persistently avoid things or events associated with the event or try to numb the responses?

If so you may be experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder.PTSD affects 10%-80% of individuals exposed to trauma. PTSD is influenced by three main factors: Pre-event factors, Event factors, and Post-event factors.

Pre-event factors include previous exposure, early depression or anxiety, ineffective coping, family instability, family history, substance abuse, trouble with authority lack of social support, early losses, gender (females are twice as likely to suffer PTSD), individuals under 25 years of age.

Event factors consist of geographic nearness to the event, the level of exposure, the meaning of the event, the younger you are in age, being a victim multiple times, duration, ongoing risk of a threat, if the event was intentional, participation in an atrocity.

Post-event factors include a lack of social support, the inability to change it, self-pity or neglect, unable to find meaning in the event, Acute stress disorder, the immediate reaction of psychological arousal, and avoidant or numbing symptoms.

PTSD has recently been called into question as to whether it changes the social cognition in individuals with this disorder.

DePrince studied impacts of betrayal trauma and suggested changes in social cognition as a possible mechanism for risk of revictimization.

” Trauma survivors are known to often experience severe problems in the social domain (also in context with the process of disclosure, as reviewed by Ullman [2003]). The impact of social reaction—especially dysfunctional reactions such as denial or indifference— to trauma disclosure may influence processes of social cognition insofar as this may trigger more intrusions and fortify social retraction in trauma survivors.” (Nietlisbach, 396)

The factors previously listed shows the importance of social support and social bonds in whether or not an individual develops PTSD. So why hasn’t there been research into the impact of these social cognitive factors, such as theory of mind and the capacity to empathize as compared to a healthy control group?

PTSD is a relatively new disorder so while it is understanding that this area lacks research. It is important to recognize the need for more research and to create a deeper understanding for a disorder that is very commonly developed.

The PTSD Workbook – Mary Beth Williams, Soili Poijula





4 thoughts on “PTSD Lacks Social Cognitive Research”

  1. Hi there!
    Looking into PTSD and social cognition is a really interesting topic! In regards to the question at the end of your blog, I did actually find an article which looks into social cognition and interpersonal impairments in trauma survivors diagnosed with PTSD. It discusses the changes in social cognition that can occur, while also looking at four elements that are needed for successful social interactions such as theory of mind, empathy, the “unconscious capacity for emotional resonance, and experiences of perceived social exclusion” (Nietlisbach & Maercker, 2009, p. 383). The article reported a few of the findings on the topic of social exclusion, and Nietlisbach and Maercker (2009) noted that due to the trauma, especially in situations of victimization, individuals feel that they are ignored by others and are not respected, so they begin to become socially isolated due to a mindset which believes they are no longer part of society (p. 395).
    The article had a lot of interesting points and it suggested areas for future research, especially in the theory of mind aspect like you mentioned.

    Nietlisbach, G. & Maercker, A. (2009) Social Cognition and Interpersonal Impairments in Trauma Survivors with PTSD, Journal of Aggression: Maltreatment & Trauma, 18(4), 382-402, DOI: 10.1080/10926770902881489


  2. PTSD is a horrible thing to suffer from on a daily bases or have things trigger panic attacks. i find the the main problem with this, besides the fact that you have PTSD, is that diagnosis is normally based on self report and the person that is suffering going to the doctor and telling them about the problem that they are having. i started to think that if it is a mental disorder it should be able to see this from brain activity. after doing some research i found an article that the researchers are finding the areas of the brain that can be seen from an fMRI scan that do show significant differences in brain functioning with people suffering from PTSD. i found this interesting due to maybe one day they can scan people that have had traumatic events happening to them and get them help before they hurt themselves or anyone else. this can also be a key role in getting them psychological help before they suffer the pain of reliving the experiences that caused them to have PTSD in the first place. the article was a bit of a harder read but worth the read overall.

    Jester JM, Steinberg DB, Heitzeg MM, Zucker RA. Journal of studies on alcohol and drugs: Coping expectancies, not enhancement expectancies, mediate trauma experience effects on problem alcohol use: a prospective study from early childhood to adolescence. Alcohol Research Documentation, Inc., Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey; 01.09.2015;76:781.


  3. I never really knew the story behind PTSD i thought it was hereditable some how i also knew it dealt with stress but not how one can be PTSD. Never had the time to sit down and study more about it but thank you for bringing this opportunity to me. getting to read more about it, i can see that it can bring a serious health disorder such as substance abuse and to my suprise i saw that meditation can subside PTSD or treat it.


  4. Interesting topic to bring more attention to… I found some good information to add. According to (Nietlisbach & Maercker, 2009) people who experience PTSD are susceptible to experiencing psychosocial problems. Nietlisbach and Maercker (2009) looked at “interpersonal factors such as social support, social acknowledgment, and interpersonal impairment that are relevant to the development and maintenance of PTSD” and their research suggested because social cognition is susceptible to being impacted and having the ability to be empathetic is one of the primary factors in social interaction with others. This study discusses much of what I think could make another interesting blog topic in the future for you! Does PTSD change your social cognition? They talk about perceived social exclusion as well.

    Nietlisbach, G., & Maercker, A. (2009). Social Cognition and Interpersonal Impairments in Trauma Survivors with PTSD. Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma, 18(4), 382-402.


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