To dissociate or suppress? predicting automatic vs. conscious cognitive avoidance

Melanie D. Hetzel-Riggin, Emily L. Wilber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Cognitive avoidance is a common response to sexual assault and reminders of trauma, but there is a paucity of research regarding predictors of automatic and conscious cognitive avoidance in response to trauma-related stimuli. The present study examined whether posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression symptoms, physiological responses, and subjective emotional responses predicted peritraumatic dissociation and thought suppression in a sample of 86 female sexual assault victims. Participants provided information about their current symptoms of PTSD and depression as well as their emotional reactions and physiological responses to hearing a personalized sexual assault narrative. PTSD and self-reported anger predicted thought suppression; peritraumatic dissociation was predicted by PTSD symptoms, changes in skin conductance, and self-reported arousal. Heart rate failed to predict either cognitive avoidance response. The results suggest that peritraumatic dissociation and thought suppression are associated with different physiological and emotional responses to trauma cues, perhaps because they tap different memory systems. Limitations and suggestions for future research are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)444-457
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Trauma and Dissociation
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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