Effects of PTSD Dulled by Social Interaction and Acceptance

When it comes to trauma, there are a lot of factors that contribute to what a person experiences after they come face-to-face with a horrific event. How is it that some people seem to live through the most appalling of things but end up rising above them? A recent study suggests that it may have less to do with the traumatic experience itself and more to do with what happens afterward.

In a revision of his classical maternal separation study conducted on lab rats in the 1990s, neurobiologist, Dr. Plotsky of Emory University discovered that momma rats separated from their pups for extended periods of time (180 minutes) reacted differently if they felt they had a safe environment to return to after experiencing the trauma of separation.

According to a recent article from the New York Times, upon reuniting with their pups, momma rats who had to return to the same environment where the separation occurred later exhibited extreme anxiety and erratic behavior, symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). For the rest of their lives, these rats had a negative response to stress. Erratic behavior in momma rats also elicited a stress response among offspring, which was triggered by permanent hormone changes in the brain.

However, when Dr. Plotsky revised his original experiment to allow momma rats to relocate to a different environment after the trauma, rat life resumed as normal. It was as if nothing had ever happened: both pups and mother seemed to make a full rebound.

Similar findings surrounding PTSD have also been found in humans. A study of 141 children ages five to 14 who were forced to serve as soldiers in Nepal during the country's civil war demonstrated that the impact of trauma was greatly affected by whether or not child soldiers were welcomed home post war. Those embraced by their communities had no more mental strain than children who had never served in the war.

Findings underscore the importance of social intervention programs for soldiers coming home from war and those exposed to distressing life events.

Posted on January 10th, 2013

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