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Battlefield psychologists investigate stress in combat and after
Date:7/19/2010

Psychologists aren't usually called to the battlefield, but the 2008-09 Gaza War gave Tel Aviv University researchers a unique picture of how anxiety manifests during stressful situations.

In a new study in the American Journal of Psychiatry, Prof. Yair Bar Haim of TAU's Department of Psychology reports that people confronted with acute stress -- daily rocket attacks -- tend to dissociate from threats instead of becoming more vigilant. This research overturns accepted convention and may lead to better understanding of the mechanisms underlying acute stress reactions, he says.

Though conducted on the battlefields of the Middle East, Prof. Bar Haim's research has immediate repercussions for U.S. soldiers as well. "The American government is dealing with large numbers of soldiers coming home from Afghanistan and Iraq suffering from PTSD," he says. "Our study is important because it's the first to show the effects of war-related acute stress in real time." It also has significant implications for the understanding of other known PTSD triggers, such as rape or motor vehicle accidents.

A real-time picture of stress

Using fMRI and other imaging techniques, Prof. Bar Haim investigated neural mechanisms related to anxiety disorders and how people respond cognitively to stress. He also studied how people process threats when they are under severe stress. His previous studies, both at Tel Aviv University and through the U.S. National Institutes of Health, looked at neural, genetic and molecular factors related to threat processing in the brain, and these gave Prof. Bar Haim and his team a context to infer what happens in the brain when behavioral data on acute stress situations is collected.

In the most recent study, he looked at Israelis close to the firing zone, near the border with Gaza, where they had been living with the daily stress of rocket threats for eight years. The threat became more severe dur
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Contact: George Hunka
ghunka@aftau.org
212-742-9070
American Friends of Tel Aviv University
Source:Eurekalert  

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