Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

McCanne, Thomas R.

Degree Name

Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy)

Legacy Department

Department of Psychology


Post-traumatic stress disorder; Aversion--Psychological aspects; Rape--Psychological aspects; Women--Crimes against--Psychological aspects


Avoiding stimuli (e.g., thoughts) that serve as reminders of a traumatic experience is one symptom dimension of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Thought suppression is one method of cognitive avoidance. Wegner and colleagues have demonstrated that thought suppression produces a paradoxical increase in target thoughts. Individuals who rely on thought suppression as a strategy for coping with a traumatic experience, such as a sexual assault, may end up experiencing an increase in trauma-related thoughts. To investigate the effects of deliberately suppressing thoughts related to sexual assault, the current study utilized a thought suppression paradigm with female victims of sexual assault in adulthood (20 with and 21 without symptoms of PTSD), and with a comparison group of 21 females who reported no history of sexual assault and no symptoms of PTSD. Participants' skin conductance levels (SCL) were measured throughout the experiment as they first suppressed and then expressed thoughts of a white bear, dancing, and their sexual assault experience. The results indicated that following suppression, participants in all three groups reported significantly more mentions of white bear, dancing, and sexual assault. No between-group differences were found. Results also indicated that participants with a history of sexual assault (both those with and those without PTSD symptoms) experienced more anxiety and stress (as indicated by their SCL and self-report of mood) when suppressing and expressing thoughts of their sexual assault description, relative to individuals in the comparison group. The potential clinical implications of these results are discussed, along with limitations and directions for future research.


Includes bibliographical references (pages [85]-88).


vi, 136 pages




Northern Illinois University

Rights Statement

In Copyright

Rights Statement 2

NIU theses are protected by copyright. They may be viewed from Huskie Commons for any purpose, but reproduction or distribution in any format is prohibited without the written permission of the authors.

Media Type