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Gene associated with high anxiety can have protective effect on the battlefield
Date:2/13/2013

The onset of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is unpredictable. Because it depends on the unforeseeable occurrence of traumatic events, it is difficult to identify preventative or causative factors. Scientists typically turn to patients who have already developed PTSD to study the disorder, but that means they can't draw comparisons to their psychological state prior to experiencing trauma.

Now, through a combination of genetic and psychological testing, Prof. Yair Bar-Haim and PhD student Ilan Wald of Tel Aviv University's School of Psychological Sciences have identified factors that mitigate against PTSD. Their study focused on infantry soldiers in the Israel Defence Forces (IDF). Soldiers have a high probability of experiencing traumatic events, explains Prof. Bar-Haim, so a susceptible subgroup is practically bound to develop the disorder.

Through psychological and DNA studies, they discovered that excessive threat vigilance, a behavior typically associated with elevated anxiety in everyday life, is a normal response in soldiers during combat deployment. In combat, those soldiers who avoided threats were more likely to develop PTSD as a result of traumatic experiences. This study, which was done in collaboration with the IDF, the National Institutes of Mental Health, and Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, was published today in JAMA Psychiatry.

Through attention bias modification training which trains participants to direct their attention either towards or away from threatening stimuli soldiers could learn to increase their vigilance towards threats before they're deployed, possibly reducing their risk for PTSD, he says. He also notes that this discovery could prove valuable in PTSD prevention for populations that are more likely to be exposed to traumatic situations.

A heightened attention to threat

To explore the causative factors of PTSD, Prof. Bar-Haim and his fellow rese
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Contact: George Hunka
ghunka@aftau.org
212-742-9070
American Friends of Tel Aviv University
Source:Eurekalert  

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