Type and Timing of Traumatic Experiences: Influences on Distress Tolerance

Date of Award


Degree Name

M.A. in Psychology


Department of Psychology


Lucy Allbaugh


Background: Distress tolerance (DT) has emerged as strongly associated with myriad trauma-related outcomes. DT is defined as one’s perceived or actual ability to withstand negative internal states such as feeling frustrated or worried (Berenz et al., 2017). DT can be measured both subjectively and behaviorally. Specific aspects of traumatic experiences such as the nature or type of the traumatic event (Berenz et al., 2017), one’s age at the time of the trauma exposure (Dunn et al., 2018), and the relationship to a perpetrator if applicable (Gamache Martin et al., 2016) may be related to DT. This study analyzed: 1) The effect of type and timing of a traumatic event on DT; 2) Among victims of interpersonal violence, if relationship to the perpetrator affects DT; and, 3) If findings are consistent across subjective and behavioral DT measures. Methods: Participants in this study were a community sample were recruited to participate via ResearchMatch. Participants completed survey materials online including a questionnaire asking about past traumatic experiences including the type of event(s), age at the time of event(s), and relationship to the perpetrator of violence where applicable. Participants also completed the Distress Tolerance Scale and the Mirror Tracing Persistence Task to assess subjective and behavioral DT respectively. Results: The interaction between type of trauma experienced and age at the time of the first event was found to be to associated with differences in behavioral DT, the interaction was not significant for subjective DT. Type of trauma experienced was significantly related to differences in subjective DT, but not behavioral DT, with those experiencing only non-interpersonal traumas having greater subjective DT. Age at the time of first event was not significantly related to either behavioral or subjective DT. Total trauma load significantly contributed to the variance of the subjective DT models. Betrayal trauma was not significantly associated with differences in subjective or behavioral DT among interpersonal trauma survivors. Significance: Findings indicate that type of trauma experienced may give insights into subjective DT levels which could be targeted in clinical interventions. Similarly knowing cumulative trauma history may assist in identifying those at risk for reduced subjective DT. Future directions for investigating the relationship between trauma and DT are also identified and discussed.


Trauma, type of traumatic event, timing of traumatic event, interpersonal trauma, betrayal trauma

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