Abstract thinking as a risk factor for the development of posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms in student paramedics
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McKinnon, A., Lorenz, H., Salkovskis, P., & Wild, J. (2021). Abstract thinking as a risk factor for the development of posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms in student paramedics. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 1– 11.
Abstract cognitive processing is characterized by “why?” and “what if?” questions and associated with processes such as rumination and worry. The tendency to think abstractly in response to stress has not been examined as a longitudinal risk factor for later stress reactions. The present study evaluated the extent to which an abstract thinking style could represent a risk factor for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms in student paramedics over a 6-month follow-up period. Student paramedics (N = 89) recruited from universities in the United Kingdom were assessed for baseline symptoms, abstract thinking, and cognitive responses to stressful memories; a follow-up assesment was conducted 6 months later in their training. All participants were exposed to a potentially traumatic event between baseline and follow-up. Baseline symptoms and trauma history accounted for 45% of the variation in follow-up posttraumatic symptoms, with abstract thinking style explaining an additional 2.5% over and above what could be predicted from initial symptom levels. Abstract thinking was moderately related to rumination in response to stressful memories, r = .45, and correlated with follow-up symptoms of PTSD, r = .49; anxiety, r = .40; and depression, r = .27. This study builds on previous work suggesting that abstract processing mode and abstract rumination are risk factors for PTSD. Abstract thinking in response to stress represents a potentially modifiable risk factor that could be targeted by a resilience-focused intervention for individuals likely to encounter traumatic events.
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