College of Arts and Sciences Publications and Scholarship


Background: Research documents that individuals with a history of childhood trauma experience greater emotion regulation difficulties (ED), as well as lower distress tolerance (DT), two constructs that independent lines of research implicate as transdiagnostic factors in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). To help elucidate how such mechanisms may influence the etiology, maintenance, and treatment of PTSD, the current study investigates the distinct mediating roles of ED and DT and explores which accounts for more unique variance.

Methods: Participants (N = 385, aged 18-48) with a childhood trauma history provided self-ratings of cumulative trauma exposure, and endorsed current ED, DT, and PTSD symptoms. Single and dual mediation analyses were conducted to assess the roles of ED and DT in the relation between childhood trauma exposure and current PTSD symptoms.

Results: ED and DT were inversely related. Higher childhood trauma exposure predicted higher PTSD symptoms in adulthood. ED and DT each mediated/explained the association between childhood trauma exposure and current PTSD symptoms; ED accounted for a larger effect size.

Limitations: Cross-sectional design precludes determining causality. Retrospective self-report in measurement is subject to bias and findings may not generalize to behavioral measures.

Conclusions: The current study results provide preliminary evidence of ED and DT as distinct mechanisms. Of clinical relevance, current findings support post-trauma processing theories that contend individuals’ recovery requires accepting and learning to modulate trauma-related emotional states. Implications for potential pathways from childhood trauma to PTSD, as well as methods of treatment and prevention are discussed.

Publication Date



College of Arts and Sciences


Department of Psychology


emotion regulation, distress tolerance, post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD, childhood trauma, transdiagnostic


Child Psychology | Clinical Psychology