This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Posttraumatic Stress Symptoms in College Students Exposed to High-Magnitude versus Low-Magnitude Stressors




Eckardt, Elizabeth

Type of Degree





Since the introduction of PTSD, exposure to trauma has been critical to the conceptualization of the disorder, although Criterion A, the stressor criterion, has undergone several transformations since it originally appeared in DSM-III. Notwithstanding the various changes to the Criterion A definition, exposure to a traumatic event remains a diagnostic requirement for the diagnosis of PTSD. However, studies have challenged this assumption and have suggested that Criterion A should be removed from the DSM diagnostic requirements as it does not add specificity to the diagnosis. The current study challenged the findings of one recent study that suggested individuals who experienced non-Criterion A events had higher rates of PTSD, as well as more severe PTSD symptoms, than did individuals who experienced Criterion A events. A conceptual replication was conducted using a sample of young adults from Auburn University who identified their most stressful life event. Rates of PTSD and PTSD symptom severity were measured using three distinct definitions of Criterion A and three self-report measures of PTSD. Results demonstrated that careful classification of Criterion A versus non-Criterion A events resulted in individuals who experienced Criterion A events reporting higher rates of PTSD, as well as more severe PTSD symptoms across measures of trauma. Additionally, when stressful life events were rated on a dimensional severity scale, the distinction between Criterion A and non-Criterion A groups became more distinct. These results emphasize the importance of careful classification of Criterion A events and reinforce the idea that more severe events lead to more severe PTSD symptoms.