Exposure to trauma-relevant pictures is associated with tachycardia in victims who had experienced an intense peritraumatic defensive response: the tonic immobility

Abstract

Tonic immobility is an involuntary, last-ditch defensive reaction characterized by physical inactivity in a context of inescapable threat that has been described in many species, including humans. The occurrence of this defensive response is a predictor of the severity of psychiatric disorders and may be considered as an index of an intense reaction to a traumatic event. Here, we investigated whether the retrospective reports of peritraumatic tonic immobility reaction in participants exposed to a traumatic event would modify their cardiac responses to pictures related to their trauma. Using a questionnaire of life-threating events, we selected students who experienced violent crime as their most intense trauma and students who had never experienced a violent crime trauma, but experienced other traumatic events. All participants completed a questionnaire that estimated the intensity of tonic immobility during their most intense trauma. Electrocardiographic recordings were collected during exposure to pictures. Participants viewed emotional pictures (human attack with guns) and neutral pictures. These emotional stimuli were selected to be trauma-relevant to the violent crime group and non trauma-relevant to the no violent crime trauma group. Violent crime group showed a positive correlation between heart rate changes after viewing trauma-related pictures and tonic immobility scores. We observed that low tonic immobility scores were associated with bradycardia and high scores with tachycardia in response to trauma-relevant pictures. For the no violent crime group, no significant correlation was detected. These results suggest that the relevance of the stimuli and the magnitude of the defensive response during a previous trauma event were important factors triggering more intense defensive responses.

DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01514

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@inproceedings{Alves2014ExposureTT, title={Exposure to trauma-relevant pictures is associated with tachycardia in victims who had experienced an intense peritraumatic defensive response: the tonic immobility}, author={Rita de C{\'a}ssia S. Alves and Liana Portugal and Orlando Fernandes and Izabela F Mocaiber and Gabriela Guerra Leal Souza and Isabel de Paula Antunes David and Eliane Volchan and Let{\'i}cia Loss de Oliveira and Mirtes Pereira}, booktitle={Front. Psychol.}, year={2014} }