Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award

January 2015

Degree Type


Degree Name




First Advisor

Joseph M. Fitzgerald


In order to better understand posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms and PTSD’s etiology, researchers have begun examining whether PTSD symptoms are related to the centrality of the traumatic event (i.e., whether the trauma is central to the individual’s life story and changes the way he or she views the world). The current study examines the following questions: (1) Is event centrality stable over time? (2) What is the effect of cumulative trauma on event centrality? Additionally, do different types of trauma have different associations with event centrality? and (3) Given its relationship with PTSD, should event centrality be considered a reliable and valid symptom of PTSD, instead of a predictor of PTSD?

These questions were addressed using a sample of 298 newly-arrived Iraqi refugees across three waves of measurement. Results from Study 1 indicate event centrality, as measured by the Centrality of Event Scale (CES), is both internally consistent and likely temporally stable over time. Study 2 results suggest CES and PTSD symptoms function similarly with regards to trauma exposure. Specifically, high cumulative trauma exposure is associated with higher CES scores and the specific trauma of Physical Trauma to the Self is associated with higher CES scores than other trauma types. Study 3 provides statistical support for the use of the CES as a symptom cluster of PTSD and criterion validity analyses indicate that individuals with high CES scores report poor overall global functioning across a spectrum of outcomes.

Overall, these results indicate event centrality is a critical component to understanding the cognitive aspects of PTSD and point toward the nuanced nature of identity, trauma, memory, and mental health. Additionally, these results suggest the CES may be a valid method of assessing poor mental health in a population unlikely to disclose mental health concerns.