Publication Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy)

Legacy Department

Department of Psychology


Guilt; Post-traumatic stress disorder; Rape victims--Psychology


Cognitive paradigms, such as the emotional Stroop procedure, have become especially valuable in PTSD research. Recent Stroop findings have consistently supported the notion of selective processing of trauma-related stimuli in individuals with PTSD, including survivors of sexual assault. Because their attention is automatically drawn to trauma-relevant stimuli, individuals with PTSD tend to exhibit delays in the color naming of words (e.g., attack) associated with their traumatic event, versus neutral or less threatening words, as a result of the interference caused by their meaning. They have also shown more interference for trauma-related words than non-PTSD sufferers with and without the same trauma history. The purpose of the present study was to explore the effects of sexual assaultrelated PTSD on the cognitive processing of guilt material using the emotional Stroop task. It was hypothesized that guilt-related words would produce a similar Stroop effect to trauma-related words when compared to neutral, positive, and unpleasant words. Additionally, a positive relationship between self-reported traumatic guilt and PTSD symptomatology was predicted. Finally, Stroop interference for trauma and guilt words was examined in relation to PTSD total and cluster symptoms. The final sample consisted of 58 college women recruited from an ongoing screening study on the basis of their responses to sexual trauma and PTSD questionnaires: 13 sexual assault survivors with PTSD, 24 sexual assault survivors without PTSD, and 21 women without PTSD or a history of sexual trauma. Results indicated that the PTSD group did not exhibit more Stroop interference for trauma or guilt words versus the other word categories or in comparison to the other two groups. However, PTSD symptomatology was found to be associated with subjective overall guilt ratings experienced in relation to a sexual assault. Implications of these findings and directions for future research are discussed.


Includes bibliographical references (pages [74]-80).


v, 118 pages




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