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Divergent evolutionary roots for posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms

logo for Club EvMed: Virtual Evolutionary Medicine Conversations
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Monday, May 17, 2021
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12:00 pm - 1:00 pm
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Sarah Mathew and Matthew Zefferman
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Club EvMed

Join us for a conversation with Sarah Mathew, Associate Professor in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change at Arizona State University, and Matthew Zefferman, Assistant Professor in the Department of Defense Analysis at the Naval Postgraduate School. Military personnel in industrialized societies often develop Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during combat. It is unclear whether combat-related PTSD is a universal evolutionary response to danger, or a culture-specific syndrome of industrialized societies. We interviewed 218 Turkana pastoralist warriors in Kenya, who engage in lethal cattle raids, about their combat experiences and PTSD symptoms. Compared to American combat veterans, Turkana suffer PTSD symptoms at high rates, but have lower prevalence of depression-like PTSD symptoms. Symptoms that facilitate responding to danger were better predicted by combat exposure, whereas depressive symptoms were better predicted by exposure to combat-related moral violations. The findings suggest that some PTSD symptoms stem from a universal response to danger, while depressive PTSD symptoms may be caused by culturally-specific moral norm violations.

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