The moderating effect of psychological flexibility on event centrality in determining trauma outcomes.

Author ORCID Identifier

Mark Riley:

Chih Chen Lee:

Publication Title

Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy





Document Type



Objective: Emerging research shows that event centrality, or the degree to which trauma is perceived as integral to one’s worldviews and personal identity, has a substantial impact on trauma recovery. Given that high centrality fosters both distress and growth, additional research on potential moderators that could better distinguish the course of adjustment is needed. This study examined whether differences in psychological flexibility (or the ability to persist in a behavior despite urges to do otherwise) impacted posttraumatic stress symptoms (PTS) and perceived posttraumatic growth (PTG) as event centrality increased. Method: One-hundred and 25 college students (52% female) with a history of trauma exposure were recruited from a large Midwestern university. Participants completed an electronic survey for course credit. Results: There was a significant interaction between event centrality and psychological flexibility on PTS severity (B = 2.10, p = .003). A simple slopes analysis revealed that low psychological flexibility was associated with greater PTS severity as event centrality increased. Although event centrality and psychological flexibility independently predicted perceived PTG, no interaction effect was observed (B = −4.68, p = .080). Conclusion: This suggests that while differences in psychological flexibility may influence PTS severity following highly centralized traumatic experiences it has a more complicated relationship with perceived PTG that requires further investigation. Clinical implications are discussed. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2020 APA, all rights reserved) Clinical Impact Statement—Self-defining traumatic experiences, such as those with high event centrality, can foster both distress and growth. There is limited understanding as to why. This study showed that individual differences in psychological flexibility helped better distinguish adverse outcomes following highly centralized traumas than adaptive outcomes (e.g., posttraumatic growth). Further research on the variables that interact with event centrality to produce different trajectories will not only enrich our understanding of trauma recovery but also facilitate intervention optimization through the refinement of therapeutic targets. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2020 APA, all rights reserved)

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event centrality, moderation, posttraumatic growth, psychological flexibility, PTSD


Department of Psychology