Dissertations and Theses @ UNI


Open Access Thesis


Post-traumatic stress disorder--Public opinion; Resilience (Personality trait); Self-evaluation; Stigma (Social psychology);


Despite the availability of effective treatment options for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), these treatments are highly under-utilized. One of the most cited barriers to treatment among people with PTSD symptoms is public stigma. In fact, the majority of the population experiences a potentially traumatic event (PTE) in their lifetime and should contribute to an assumption of a lack of stigma toward people with PTSD symptoms. Yet, it may be that the stigma perceived by people with PTSD symptoms is more nuanced than what is seen in stigma for other disorders. More often than not, people who experience a PTE will be resilient to its effects. Of particular interest is whether people who are resilient against PTEs may harbor stigmatizing attitudes toward people who develop PTSD. Resilience research has demonstrated that although self-enhancement—a tendency to evaluate oneself in an overly positive manner—promotes resilience and protects against PTSD development, it also leads to negative social interactions. Self-enhancers tend to focus on others’ flaws as a way of bolstering their own self-image. As such, self-enhancement may be a key variable in understanding the nature of stigma attitudes toward people with a diagnosis of PTSD. Due to the relative lack of research into public stigma behaviors toward people diagnosed with PTSD, the current study was designed to examine whether self-enhancement contributes to the creation of stigmatizing behaviors toward people diagnosed with PTSD.

A total of 114 college students were randomly assigned to read one of two vignettes which varied in the perceived responsibility for the PTE, and completed measures of trauma history, PTSD symptoms, resilience, self-enhancement, personal stigma, and social distance. All participants endorsed at least one historic PTE. Selfenhancement moderated the relationship between PTE and PTSD development such that high self-enhancers with relatively few PTE experienced fewer PTSD symptoms—at high levels of PTE, the effects of self-enhancement fell away. That is, as the number of PTEs increased, high self-enhancers were just as likely to endorse PTSD symptoms as low self-enhancers. Perceived controllability moderated the relationship between selfenhancement and personal stigma, but only for females. Additionally, self-enhancement demonstrated a moderate positive relationship with personal stigma toward and desired social distance from people with PTSD symptoms.

When observing others’ experience of distress, self-enhancers may view those people as weak and engage in stigmatizing behaviors as a result. These findings suggest that by tailoring anti-stigma programs to address characteristics of self-enhancement that contribute to stigmatizing attitudes, the success of such programs could be increased. Reduction of stigma could increase treatment utilization, thereby decreasing the potential impact of PTSD for the individual and society.

Year of Submission


Degree Name

Master of Arts


Department of Psychology

First Advisor

Seth A. Brown, Chair

Date Original


Object Description

1 PDF file (x, 94 pages)



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