Dr. Robin Ohringer has served clients as a psychotherapist and social worker for 45 years. In private practice since 1989, Dr. Robin Ohringer draws on in-depth experience in treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental health conditions.
Although all human beings respond to surprising events, the learning response may be more intense in military veterans with PTSD. Researchers at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, or VTCRI, recently conducted brain scans of 74 veterans who had experienced trauma while serving in either Iraq or Afghanistan. Some of these individuals had formal diagnoses of PTSD.
The researchers studied the participants' reactions to surprising events by playing gambling games with them while the participants were connected to MRI scanners. They found that, compared to participants without PTSD diagnoses, participants with such diagnoses had increased levels of activity in attention centers of the brain when something unexpected happened in the game.
This result supports prior research that individuals with PTSD are more attentive to unexpected occurrences and potential threats, while offering more information about how this occurs. Findings suggest that the disproportionate attention to surprise makes it difficult for such individuals to allocate attention to their surroundings in a typical way. Researchers have noted that awareness of this process may help clinicians in the mental health field to develop more appropriate assessment tools and interventions that specifically address this learning disruption, which may in turn help to reduce symptoms in individuals with PTSD.