Neural vulnerability and hurricane-related media are associated with post-traumatic stress in youth
La Greca AM,
Nat Hum Behav
The human toll of disasters extends beyond death, injury and loss. Post-traumatic stress (PTS) can be common among directly exposed individuals, and children are particularly vulnerable. Even children far removed from harm’s way report PTS, and media-based exposure may partially account for this phenomenon. In this study, we examine this issue using data from nearly 400 9- to 11-year-old children collected before and after Hurricane Irma, evaluating whether pre-existing neural patterns moderate associations between hurricane experiences and later PTS. The ‘dose’ of both self-reported objective exposure and media exposure predicted PTS, the latter even among children far from the hurricane. Furthermore, neural responses in brain regions associated with anxiety and stress conferred particular vulnerability. For example, heightened amygdala reactivity to fearful stimuli moderated the association between self-reported media exposure and PTS. Collectively, these findings show that for some youth with measurable vulnerability, consuming extensive disaster-related media may offer an alternative pathway to disaster exposure that transcends geography and objective risk.