Answering questions about trauma less distressing than waiting in line at a bank

One of the more interesting background notes to the CDC’s Adverse Childhood Experience Study was that the Institutional Review Board (IRB) responsible for approving this particular research project involving human subjects nearly turned down the ACE Study. Its members thought that people who answered questions about trauma might be triggered and suffer a mental breakdown. They finally agreed to OK the study only on the condition that someone involved wear a pager 24/7 lest a person who answered the 200-question ACE survey become suicidal.

IRBs apparently have been reluctant to approve studies that asked people about trauma and sex, and this has led to delaying or stopping research that could be useful, according to this research overview by Dr. Rick Nauert on PsychCentral.com. This state of affairs led researchers Elizabeth Yeater, Geoffrey Miller, Jenny Rinehart, and Erica Nason at the

University of New Mexico to do a study to find out just how much typical research participants – college undergraduates – were upset by such questions.

They gathered 504 college students and randomly assigned them to take a standardized intelligence test or to answer questions about trauma and sex….for two hours. The results:

The participants who completed the trauma/sex survey reported slightly higher negative emotion on average than the intelligence-test participants, but the difference was very small, and the average level of negative emotion in both conditions was very low.

On the other hand, the participants who completed the trauma/sex survey reported more positive emotion, more personal insight, less boredom, and less mental exhaustion.

Most surprisingly, participants in both conditions reported that the two-hour study was significantly less distressing than all 15 ordinary life events – even getting a paper cut, or waiting in line for 20 minutes at a bank.

The trauma and sex questionnaire included queries about whether “they’d raped or raped someone else, whether they’d suffered childhood sexual abuse or physical beatings, whether they recently felt suicidal, how many sexual hook-ups they’d had, how often they have sexual fantasies about cheating on their partner, whether they would take part in an orgy, how often they have traumatic flashbacks, when their last menstrual period was, whether they use sexual lubricant while masturbating, whether they have breast implants or body piercings, and whether they’ve used a day-after contraceptive pill recently”, according to the post.

As Drs. Robert Anda and Vincent Felitti, co-founders of the ACE Study, might have said: “I told you so.” Not one of the 17,000 people who participated in the ACE Study ever called ACE Study crisis hotline, they said.

Here’s a pdf of the study: TraumaandSexSurveys

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