Mervin Smucker. Neuroscience Trauma Research Findings.

In a neuroscience research study conducted by Lanius et. al. (2004), traumatic imagery vs. neutral imagery was measured by fMRI functional connectivity analyses to determine if differences existed between patients with and without PTSD.

  • Scripti-Driven Imagery was used with 24 trauma patients
    – 11 had PTSD (6 sexual assault, 5 motor vehicle accidents)
    – 13 no PTSD (5 sexual assault, 8 motor vehicle accidents)
  • All subjects scanned the traumatic and neutral imagery 3 times while instructed to
    – (30 seconds) Lie still and focus on script of a traumatic or neutral event that they had experienced as the script of the event was being read to them;
    – (60 seconds) Remember olfactory, auditory, somato-sensory, visual sensations as soon as the script was heard;
    – (120 seconds) Lie still, breathe through nose, and let go of traumatic imagery
    – Above script was repeated two times

Results of fMRI analyses yielded the following differences between PTSD vs. non-PTSD patients.

  • PTSD Patients Experienced:
    – Trauma memories as affect-laden memories in flashback form (e.g., reported feeling „I was back at the scene of the trauma“
    – Increased heart rate during the script-driven imagery
    – Increased right hemispheric activity consistent with a non-verbal pattern of memory retrieval
  • Non-PTSD Patients Experienced:
    – Trauma memories recall as non-affect-laden, autobiographical memories (in narrative form)
    – Increased left-hemispheric activation consistent with verbal pattern of memory retrieval
    – No increase in heart rate during script-driven imagery

Mervin Smucker