ASTSS 2011 Research Award Recipients

First Prize

Diagnosis of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in Preschool Children
Dr Alexandra de Young
University of Queensland

This study investigated the existing posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) algorithms to determine the most developmentally sensitive and valid approach for diagnosing PTSD in preschoolers. Participants were 130 parents of unintentionally burned children (1-6 years). Diagnostic interviews were conducted with parents to assess for PTSD in their child at 1 and 6 months post injury and the Child Behavior Checklist for 1.5-5 was also completed. The proposed PTSD in preschool children algorithm for theDiagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.; PTSD-DSM-V-P) provided the most developmentally sensitive and valid measure of PTSD. The rate of PTSD-DSM-V-P diagnosis was 25% at 1 month and 10% at 6 months. The predictive utility of Criterion A was not demonstrated. These findings provide support for the inclusion of the proposed PTSD in preschool children algorithm in the DSM-V.

Second Prize

Maternal separation results in early emergence of adult-like fear and extinction learning in infant rats.
Bridget Callaghan
The University of New South Wales

Abstract: Recent studies in rats have shown that extinction occurring early in life is resistant to relapse and may represent the erasure of fear memories. In the present study we examined the effects of early life stress on extinction in the developing rat, which could have important implications for the treatment of anxiety disorders in those who have experienced early life stress. In the present study, we used maternal lseparation on postnatal days (P) 2–14 as an early life stressor. On P17, maternally separated and standard-reared animals were trained to fear a noise associated with a foot shock. The fear of this noise was then extinguished (through repeated non-reinforced noise presentations) on P18. Animals were tested for contextually mediated, stress-mediated, and GABA-mediated fear relapse the day after extinction. We found that young animals exposed to maternal-separation were more likely to exhibit context- and stress-mediated relapse after extinction than standard-reared animals (Experiments 1 and 2). Further, unlike standard-reared animals, maternally separated rats exhibited a return of fear when the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA was blocked at test (Experiment 3). These effects were not the result of maternal separation increasing rats’ sensitivity to foot shock (Experiment 5) and may in part be related to superior long-term memory for contexts in P17 maternally separated rats (Experiment 4). Taken together, these results suggest that early life adversity may prepare young animals to respond more cautiously toward fear signals in their environment.

Equal Third Prize

Trauma related symptoms in Sri Lankan adult survivors after the tsunami: Pretraumatic and Peritraumatic factors.
Charini Gunaratne
Deakin University

Limited research has been conducted on factors associated with psychological distress following natural disasters among non-Western populations. The 2004 Tsunami impacted on an estimated 1.7 million people across South Asia. Considerable variation in traumatic stress outcomes has been reported. Using a 25-item questionnaire, the pretraumatic and peritraumatic conditions associated with traumatic stress symptoms were examined one month post-tsunami in a sample of 305 adult Sri Lankan survivors (72% female, aged 18 to 83, M=39.9 yrs, SD=15.3). The outcome measure (summed traumatic symptom scores) was dichotomised into no/low (0-2) and high (≥3) symptom categories. Binary logistic regression tested for associations between pretraumatic and peritraumatic conditions and symptom category, with the latter analysis adjusted for pretraumatic variables. Pretraumatic conditions such as female gender, being employed, prior health issues, previous substance use and peritraumatic conditions such as loss of family, witnessing the tsunami, suffering an injury, were associated with increased odds of being in the high symptom category. These findings are discussed in terms of comparison to studies of Western populations exposed to disasters, suggesting that in the Sri Lankan context, adults are affected more by human losses and less by material losses.

Equal Third Prize

Subjective Wellbeing and the Intergenerational Transmission of Trauma in Australian Families of Holocaust Survivors
Melissa Weinberg
Deakin University

Sixty-five years after the Holocaust, there is evidence to suggest that the psychological trauma of survivors has been passed down to their children and grandchildren, the second and third generations. This study aims to explore the intergenerational transmission of trauma in an Australian sample, under the theoretical framework of Subjective Wellbeing (SWB) Homeostasis. A sample of 285 Australian Jews was compared to a representative Australian sample. Subsequently, the Jewish sample was split according to whether they were descendants of survivors or not, and comparisons revealed that children of survivors were found to report lower positive mood than other Jews whose parents were not in the Holocaust. Further exploration revealed that, in particular, those who had two survivor parents were at greater risk of experiencing lower positive mood. These findings provide evidence for the intergenerational transmission of trauma in an Australian sample, in the form of lowered general positive mood.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email