Graduation Year

2009

Document Type

Thesis

Degree

M.A.

Degree Granting Department

Psychology

Major Professor

David Diamond, Ph.D.

Keywords

Enrichment, Trauma, Animal, Model, Support

Abstract

Individuals exposed to life-threatening trauma are at increased risk for developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Not all people exposed to trauma, however, go on to develop PTSD. Some evidence suggests that individuals who receive social stimulation, such being involved in supportive social networks, are less likely to develop PTSD compared to those lacking social interactions. Although human research has been effective in demonstrating associations between higher levels of social stimulation and lower incidences of PTSD, there has been a lack of experimental evidence suggesting that social stimulation protects against the onset of the disorder after trauma. Here, we tested the hypothesis that providing animals with daily social stimulation (DSS) would ameliorate psychosocial stress-induced changes in behavior and physiology produced by our previously developed animal model of PTSD which generates responses comparable to patients with the disorder. The major findings of this study revealed that providing animals with DSS initiated shortly after an acute stress experience blocked the development of PTSD-like responses in adult rats exposed to chronic psychosocial stress, such as heightened anxiety, exaggerated startle, and contextual fear. These results are consistent with human research suggesting that social stimulation may confer resistance of a subset of the traumatized population to develop PTSD. This level of analysis in an animal model of PTSD underlies the importance of continuing clinical research examining social phenomena in identifying risk factors for PTSD, as well as non-pharmacological treatments (e.g. social support systems) for the disorder.

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