Date of Completion


Thesis Advisor(s)

Crystal Park; Robert Bagchi; Sinead Sinnott


Behavioral Neurobiology | Biology | Medicine and Health Sciences | Psychiatry and Psychology | Public Health | Social and Behavioral Sciences


Posttraumatic stress symptoms (PTSS) can be distressing and produce robust cardiovascular symptoms, such as increased heart rate and blood pressure, which have been implicated in higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD). Identifying factors that may reduce symptoms may suggest therapeutic strategies. One such potential factor is spirituality, given that spirituality is associated with both reducing PTSS and with preventing or improving CVD. We sampled 63 young college women who indicated being exposed to unwanted sexual contact. We asked them to write about their experience while we took heart rate (HR), systolic blood pressure (SBP) and diastolic blood pressure (DBP) measures from baseline to pre-task, during task, and post-task. The participants were given a survey to assess spirituality. Results showed that PTSS was highly correlated with decreased DBP (blunted reactivity) but was not associated with increased reactivity. Spirituality was associated with decreases in HR at all points. Our findings further suggest that spirituality was not a significant moderator between PTSS and cardiovascular reactivity measures. We hope that this study will further shed light on the relationships between sexual trauma and cardiovascular health, as well as the role of spirituality as a therapeutic device.