Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Psychopathy, and Impairments in Emotion Recognition

Open Access
Plavnik, Yekaterina
Area of Honors:
Bachelor of Arts
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Amy Dyanna Marshall, Thesis Supervisor
  • William Ray, Honors Advisor
  • PTSD
  • interpersonal difficulties
  • emotion recognition
  • psychopathy
Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that develops following exposure to a traumatic event; symptoms include reexperiencing, hyperarousal, and avoidance. PTSD has been previously associated with various interpersonal difficulties, including emotional withdrawal and lack of intimacy. An important component in successful intimate relationships is the ability to communicate and understand one another in various situations. I hypothesize that individuals with high PTSD symptom severity will perform more poorly on an emotion recognition task assessing accuracy compared to individuals with low PTSD symptom severity. Moreover, psychopathic personality traits have been previously linked to impairments in emotion recognition; therefore, I predict that psychopathy will moderate the relationship between PTSD and emotion recognition difficulties. In this study, PTSD symptom severity was assessed with the Clinician-Administered PTSD Scale, psychopathic personality traits were measured dimensionally with the Psychopathic Personality Inventory--Revised, and the participants’ ability to correctly identify their partner’s emotions was analyzed using an emotion recognition task assessing accuracy. Contrary to my hypothesis, results indicated that PTSD was not significantly correlated with impairments in emotion recognition (r = -.046, ns). Moreover, psychopathy did not moderate the relationship between PTSD and emotion recognition, B= .049, t(14) = .354, ns. Although various methodological issues may have played a role in these findings, results indicated that individuals with PTSD are not significantly impaired in recognizing their partner’s emotions. Therefore, the interpersonal difficulties evident in PTSD may not be caused by emotion recognition difficulties. Further investigation into the lack of findings in this study may identify other factors that play a role in the relationship between PTSD and interpersonal difficulties.