Prior trauma-related experiences predict the development of posttraumatic stress disorder after a new traumatic event

Felicia Gould, Philip D. Harvey, Gabrielle Hodgins, Mackenzie T. Jones, Vasiliki Michopoulos, Jessica Maples-Keller, Barbara O. Rothbaum, Alex O. Rothbaum, Kerry J. Ressler, Charles B. Nemeroff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Background: Many reports have documented the relationship between previous traumatic experiences, including childhood trauma, and the development of later life psychopathology, including posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Identification of individuals at greatest risk for the development of PTSD could lead to preventative interventions. The present study examined the developmental course of PTSD after trauma exposure, using histories of previous traumatic experiences and the severity of the reaction to the trauma as predictors. Methods: Participants (N = 713) were recruited from Emergency Departments in Miami and Atlanta immediately following a traumatic experience. Histories of previous traumatic experiences and the immediate reaction to the new trauma were examined at baseline. Follow-up assessments of PTSD severity were conducted at 1, 3, and 6 months. Results: Histories of child abuse and pre-existing trauma symptoms predicted the immediate response to stress (R2 =.21, p <.001) and the initial trauma reaction (p <.005).) A mixed-model repeated-measures analysis of variance found that immediate stress response and a history of prior trauma (p <.001) significantly predicted the course of PTSD symptoms. Area under the curve (AUC) analyses suggested that the presence of PTSD at each successive assessment was predicted most substantially by the severity of PTSD at the immediately prior follow-up assessment (AUC > 0.86). Conclusions: The current findings suggest that previous traumatic experiences lead to a greater immediate reaction to trauma and combine to predict the development of PTSD, the maintenance of which is not moderated by these earlier experiences. The identification of people likely to develop PTSD may be aided by the assessment of prior experiences and immediate reactions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)40-47
Number of pages8
JournalDepression and anxiety
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2021


  • PTSD
  • childhood maltreatment
  • prior trauma
  • trauma
  • trauma reaction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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