University of Cambridge > > Social Psychology Seminar Series (SPSS) > Intrusive Thoughts and Cognitive Functioning following Potentially Traumatic Events: From Hurricanes to Maltreatment, Injury, and Chronic Illness

Intrusive Thoughts and Cognitive Functioning following Potentially Traumatic Events: From Hurricanes to Maltreatment, Injury, and Chronic Illness

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Dr Julain Oldmeadow.

Sadly, about one of every four children will experience a traumatic event before the age of 16. A considerable proportion of these children develop symptoms of child traumatic stress, such as unwanted intrusive thoughts. This talk presents the first empirical study of the relationships among intrusive thoughts in children, children’s level of knowledge about the mind, and experiences with a natural disaster. Unlike adults, kindergartners and elementary school children typically have only limited knowledge about the mind and the minds operations (i.e., the constant flow of thought and its uncontrollability). By implication, these basic findings suggest the hypothesis that young children will have difficulty monitoring and reporting intrusive thoughts following potentially traumatic events, such as Hurricane Katrina. A large sample of 5- to 8-year-old children living in areas directly affected by Hurricane Katrina (Gulf Coast, MS) were interviewed 7 months post-hurricane, with measures of unwanted intrusive thoughts as well as measures of cognitive functioning, and data from hurricane-affected children were compared with a control group, living in an area not directly affected by Katrina (Malden, MA). Results show no differences in the overall frequency and intensity of intrusive thoughts in Hurricane Katrina survivors compared to children from the control group. However, an interesting difference was found between hurricane affected and control children in the qualitative nature of their intrusive thoughts. Whereas equal numbers of control children report “positive”- (e.g., while working on homework they start thinking about a new toy or a visit to Disneyworld) as do “negative” intrusive thoughts (e.g. while playing with a friend starting to think about a bad accident), the majority of hurricane affected children report “negative” intrusive thoughts. By implication, equilibrium of positive and negative cognitions (including unwanted intrusive thoughts), is representative of healthy mental life and might contribute to resiliency. The funneling of intrusive thoughts (i.e. predominatly negative intrusive thoughts), however, might be maladaptive and associated with an increased risk for suffering long-term emotional harm from the experience of a potentially traumatic event. An interesting question is now to see if a similar funneling effect and association between children’s reports of own intrusive thoughts and their understanding of intrusive thoughts is found following other potentially traumatic events, such as maltreatment, chronic illness or sever injury. In collaboration with the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, we are currently collecting data from samples of maltreated children, and children hospitalized with injuries.

This talk is part of the Social Psychology Seminar Series (SPSS) series.

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