Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

McCanne, Thomas R.

Degree Name

Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy)

Legacy Department

Department of Psychology


Rape victims--Psychology; Post-traumatic stress disorder


Rape is a traumatic event that has been linked to a number of later psychological problems, especially PTSD. Initial cognitive reactions play an important role in the development of PTSD after rape. Peritraumatic dissociation, or dissociation that occurs during or immediately following a traumatic event, has been linked with the development of the psychological symptoms of PTSD in a number of studies. Previous studies have found mixed results regarding the relationship between peritraumatic dissociation and the physiological symptoms of PTSD. One previous study found that highly dissociative sexual assault victims exhibit physiological suppression when asked to talk about their sexual assault experience. The primary aim of the present study was to investigate the relationship between peritraumatic dissociation, the pattern of PTSD development, and physiological reactivity in women sexually assaulted as adults. Eighty-six female introductory psychology students from a midwestern university completed self-report measures of sexual assault histories, peritraumatic dissociation, and PTSD. These women were exposed to short, idiographic descriptions of their sexual assault experience as well as a positive, fearful, and neutral experience while their physiological responses were recorded. In contrast to previous studies, none of the women recruited for this study identified themselves as having recovered from PTSD symptoms. Many of these women reported subclinical levels of PTSD at some point since their sexual assault. The results showed few differences between low and high peritraumatic dissociation groups in physiological reactivity and self-reported affect. The high-peritraumatic dissociation group did not show evidence of physiological suppression; they showed a significant increase in skin conductance levels during the sexual assault script as compared to the low-peritraumatic dissociation group. The results of the current study support the notion that peritraumatic dissociation plays a strong role in the development of PTSD. Clinicians and researchers alike should take care to assess initial dissociative reactions to rape. Peritraumatic dissociation seemed to have a very limited effect on the physiological and affective reactions to reminders of the rape. Limitations, research and clinical implications, and future directions are discussed.


Includes bibliographical references (pages [146]-160).


xii, 228 pages




Northern Illinois University

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