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How to quantify exposure to traumatic stress? Reliability and predictive validity of measures for cumulative trauma exposure in a post-conflict population

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  • Sarah Wilker
  • Anett Pfeiffer
  • Stephan Kolassa
  • Daniela Koslowski
  • Thomas Elbert
  • Iris-Tatjana Kolassa
Article number28306
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>1/12/2015
<mark>Journal</mark>European Journal of Psychotraumatology
Issue number1
Number of pages10
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English


While studies with survivors of single traumatic experiences highlight individual response variation following trauma, research from conflict regions shows that almost everyone develops posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) if trauma exposure reaches extreme levels. Therefore, evaluating the effects of cumulative trauma exposure is of utmost importance in studies investigating risk factors for PTSD. Yet, little research has been devoted to evaluate how this important environmental risk factor can be best quantified.

We investigated the retest reliability and predictive validity of different trauma measures in a sample of 227 Ugandan rebel war survivors. Trauma exposure was modeled as the number of traumatic event types experienced or as a score considering traumatic event frequencies. In addition, we investigated whether age at trauma exposure can be reliably measured and improves PTSD risk prediction.

All trauma measures showed good reliability. While prediction of lifetime PTSD was most accurate from the number of different traumatic event types experienced, inclusion of event frequencies slightly improved the prediction of current PTSD.

As assessing the number of traumatic events experienced is the least stressful and time-consuming assessment and leads to the best prediction of lifetime PTSD, we recommend this measure for research on PTSD etiology.