Researchers at the University of Bath want local people to take part in a new study which hopes to improve understanding of the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

PTSD is a stress-related disorder caused by stressful, frightening, or distressing events. It is often associated with symptoms which include nightmares or flashbacks, but individuals can also experience feelings of isolation, irritability, or guilt. They may experience insomnia or find concentrating hard. Common causes of PTSD include road accidents, childbirth experiences or violent assaults.

PTSD can develop immediately, or months or even years after the event. It is estimated to affect about 1 in every 5 people who have a traumatic experience – although it is not entirely clear why some people develop the condition and others do not.

The aim of this study is to understand how audio and visual perception might contribute to emotional difficulties and negative processing in PTSD, including how this could impact on the effectiveness of treatments, such as Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy. The results will feed into new models designed to better understand PTSD and its effects.

In most previous studies of PTSD, researchers have focused on emotional judgements using only one sense (typically vision). The team behind this new study suggest this does not fully capture how we process emotions in real-life, which normally involves combining information from multiple senses. This is the gap in knowledge that this study aims to fill.

Lead researcher, Naomi Heffer from the Department of Psychology explained: “The aim of this study is to learn more about how emotions are perceived and interpreted by people with PTSD. Previous research in this area has focused on emotion perception from facial expressions only, even though emotions are normally expressed and perceived via multiple senses in everyday life.

“This project will use electroencephalography (EEG) to measure brain activity during emotional judgements. We really want people with PTSD and trauma survivors from the local area to come forward to take part to help us learn more about how trauma and PTSD can affect the way that we integrate emotional information.”