Date of Award

9-2010

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

Psychology

First Advisor

Sally Powers

Second Advisor

M. Christine King

Third Advisor

Jerrold Meyer

Subject Categories

Clinical Psychology | Psychology

Abstract

Past work has linked self-injurious behavior (SIB) to a history of traumatic experiences and to problems regulating affect. While this affect dysregulation is conceptualized as occurring at a biological (as well as a behavioral) level, relatively little is known about the biological mechanisms involved. The current study explored whether reactivity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis to an interpersonal stressor mediated the relation between trauma and SIB in a sample of 178 18-21 year-old heterosexual dating couples. As predicted, both trauma experience and symptoms positively predicted SIB. While the mediating model was not supported, SIB was associated with an HPA axis response marked by heightened reactivity to interpersonal stress within the context of lower cortisol levels. Trauma symptoms and experience interacted with adult attachment security to predict HPA axis response in different ways for men and women, a compelling set of findings suggesting the importance of contextual factors in the study of trauma and HPA axis function. Future directions for the study of trauma, HPA axis reactivity, and SIB are discussed.

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