Dissociation, Perceptual Processing, and Conceptual Processing in Survivors of the Christchurch Earthquakes 2011
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMasters of Science
Fatal earthquakes such as that which occurred in Christchurch on February 22nd 2011, can result in survivors having difficulties with cognitively processing the event, which may be the precursor to posttraumatic stress symptoms. Trauma related dissociation has been proposed to be a mechanism related to these cognitive processing difficulties. Most research focusing on information processing and dissociation post-trauma has conducted controlled analogue studies or has not focused solely on information processing and dissociation. There is also scant research on these constructs across therapy. In response to this gap in research, two studies were developed. An association was proposed between dissociation and information processing as demonstrated by an increase in conceptual processing and a reduction in dissociation. It was predicted that an improvement in these constructs would be related to a reduction in PTSD symptoms over therapy. Study1 applied a case-study design to 5 individuals who were attending therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder in response to the trauma they had experienced from the Christchurch earthquakes. Study 2 assessed information processing and dissociation (via self and observer report) in 20 individuals who had direct exposure to the effects of the earthquake. Earthquake information processing and dissociation were assessed as they were happening nearly two year’s post-quake using correlation analyses and hierarchical regressions. The hypotheses were partially confirmed, in that an increase in conceptual processing was not shown to be associated with a reduction in dissociation. However, an increase in conceptual processing was shown to be related to trauma symptom improvement particularly for re-experiencing symptoms. In addition, study 2 demonstrated a possible relationship between trait dissociation and arousal symptoms. These findings partially support the proposed role information processing and dissociation play in the recovery from PTSD. The findings suggest that trauma related difficulties should be assessed as early as possible to resolve issues related to a delay in symptom reporting.