Open Access Research article

Rapid emotional processing in relation to trauma-related symptoms as revealed by magnetic source imaging

Inga Schalinski*, James Moran, Maggie Schauer and Thomas Elbert

Author Affiliations

Department of Psychology, University of Konstanz, P.O. Box 905, 78457 Konstanz, Germany

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BMC Psychiatry 2014, 14:193  doi:10.1186/1471-244X-14-193

Published: 5 July 2014



Traumatic stress leads to functional reorganization in the brain and may trigger an alarm response. However, when the traumatic event produces severe helplessness, the predominant peri-traumatic response may instead be marked by a dissociative shutdown reaction. The neural correlates of this dissociative shutdown were investigated by presenting rapidly presented affective pictures to female participants with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and comparing responses to a Non-PTSD control group.


Event-related-magnetic-fields were recorded during rapid visual serial presentation of emotionally arousing stimuli (unpleasant or pleasant), which alternated with pictures with low affective content (neutral). Neural sources, based on the L2-surface-minimum-norm, correlated with the severity of the symptom clusters: PTSD, depression and shutdown dissociation.


For the early cortical response (60 to 110 ms), dissociation and PTSD symptom severity show similar spatial distributions of correlates for unpleasant stimuli. Cortical networks that could be involved in the relationships seem to be widespread.


We conclude that shutdown dissociation, PTSD and depression all have distinct effects on early processing of emotional stimuli.

PTSD; MEG; IAPS; Shutdown; Dissociation; Depression