Shattered Assumptions? A prospective study: The impact of trauma on global beliefs and adjustment

Date of Completion

January 2010


Psychology, Clinical




Janoff-Bulman's Shattered Assumptions (1992) lays out an elegant and comprehensive theory of trauma response based on the premise that traumatic events influence adjustment via the shattering of a core set of fundamental assumptions. Specifically, she posits that trauma alters deeply held global beliefs related to the benevolence and meaningfulness of the world and the worthiness of the self, and that changes in these worldview domains is related to the experience of trauma-related distress and psychopathology. While this theory has been highly compelling and influential to researchers and theoreticians in the field of trauma and PTSD, empirical evidence has been equivocal and flawed by methodological limitations. The present study aimed to address some of those limitations by utilizing a prospective design and a variety of measures of worldview domains to assess 1) whether the experience of trauma affects existing global beliefs, and 2) whether changes in global belief domains is related to adjustment outcomes. To our knowledge, this study is the first to prospectively assess the impact of trauma on global beliefs utilizing previously validated measures other than the World Assumptions Scale (Janoff-Bulman, 1989). ^ Results did not provide evidence for the alteration of worldviews due to trauma. However, our data do suggest that core belief domains are intimately related to adjustment, and that, at the very least, these two variables shift together. While it is possible that methodological limitations inhibited the finding of more theory-consistent results, it is at least as likely that Shattered Assumptions theory as originally laid out by Janoff-Bulman (1985; 1989; 1992) is an overgeneralization of the exceedingly complex and nuanced phenomenon of trauma response. Implications, limitations, and directions for future research are discussed. ^