Psychophysiologic responsivity in posttraumatic stress disorder: Generalized hyperresponsiveness versus trauma specificity

John H. Casada, Richard Amdur, Randy Larsen, Israel Liberzon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Scopus citations


Background: Clinically, subjects with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are viewed as hyperresponsive to a variety of stimuli. Psychophysiologic studies, however, have demonstrated hyperresponsiveness only to stimuli that are closely related to the original trauma. Methods: This set of experiments uses a variety of stimuli that vary in trauma- relatedness, arousal level, sensory modality stimulated, and degree of cognitive processing demanded to assess the extent of generalization of physiologic responses. Heart rate (HR), frontal electromyogram (EMG), and skin conductance (EDG) responses were measured during presentation of each stimulus. Results: PTSD subjects (n=15) had an elevated baseline EDG and increased HR and EMG responses to the trauma-related stimulus (combat sounds) compared to normal control subjects (n=11) and combat control subjects (n=10). No significant differences were noted between PTSD and control groups in response to nontrauma-related arousing stimuli. Conclusions: These results suggest that the physiologic hyperresponsivity of PTSD subjects is limited to stimuli closely associated with the inciting trauma.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1037-1044
Number of pages8
JournalBiological Psychiatry
Issue number10
StatePublished - Nov 15 1998


  • Electromyography
  • Galvanic skin response
  • Impedance
  • Plethysmography
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder
  • Psychophysiology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biological Psychiatry


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