The present study investigated the interactions between emotion regulation strategies and cognitive distortions in posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). We also examined differences in emotion regulation and cognitive distortions across the trauma spectrum.
The study was conducted in France between December 2019 and August 2020 and was approved by the university ethics committee. We recruited 180 participants aged over 18, with 3 groups of 60 each: (1) patients diagnosed with PTSD, (2) trauma-exposed without PTSD, (3) no history of trauma. Exclusion criteria were a history of neurological or mental disorders, psychoactive substance abuse, and a history of physical injury that could affect outcomes. All participants completed the Life Events Checklist‑5 (LEC-5), Post-traumatic Check List‑5 (PCL-5), Dissociative Experiences Scale (DES), Cognitive Emotion Regulation Questionnaire (CERQ), and Cognitive Distortions scale for Adults (EDC-A). Correlation analysis was performed to observe the relationship between PTSD severity and cognitive functioning. Correlations between cognitive distortions and maladaptive emotion regulation strategies were calculated for the PTSD group. A moderation analysis of the whole sample was conducted to examine the relationship between cognitive distortions, emotion regulation strategies, and PTSD.
Participants with PTSD scored significantly higher on the PCL‑5 and for dissociation than the other groups. PCL‑5 scores were positively correlated with maladaptive emotion regulation strategies and acceptance. They were also correlated with positive and negative dichotomous reasoning and negative minimization. Analysis of the PTSD group revealed correlations between maladaptive emotion regulation strategies and negative cognitive distortions. The moderation analysis revealed the cognitive distortions explaining the relationship between emotion regulation strategies and trauma exposure overall, and how they exacerbate emotional problems in PTSD.
The study provides indications for management of PTSD patients. Inclusion of an intermediate group of individuals exposed to trauma without PTSD revealed differences in the observed alterations. It would be interesting to extend the cross-sectional observation design to study traumatic events that may cause a specific type of disorder.