Distress intolerance (DI) is a well-established cognitive-affective factor that reflects the inability to tolerate negative emotional experiences. DI has been consistently linked with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) but no research to date has demonstrated whether DI confers pre-existing risk for PTSD-like symptoms following an analogue trauma.
Participants (n = 70) were recruited based on either a history of traumatic brain injury (TBI) or elevations on a related emotional vulnerability. After completing self-report measures, participants watched a film depicting life-threatening car accidents and then monitored the occurrence of intrusions. Ambulatory assessments of film-related traumatic intrusions were then reported 3x/day for 7 days.
As hypothesized, greater DI predicted a poorer ability to volitionally suppress intrusions during the lab-based monitoring period. DI also predicted greater naturalistic intrusions on average throughout the subsequent week, and this difference was largest at the beginning of the follow-up period. Unexpectedly, DI did not predict the trajectory (i.e., slope) of naturalistic intrusions during the follow-up period. TBI status was also not related to intrusions during the follow-up period.
These findings provide critical support for DI as a pre-existing risk factor for the development of intrusive thoughts following an analogue trauma. Future research should seek to extend these findings to a clinical sample.