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Date of Award

Spring 2023

Document Type

Masters Thesis

Department or Program Affiliation

Experimental Psychology

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)



First Advisor

Delker, Brianna C.

Second Advisor

Byrne, Christina A.,

Third Advisor

Yuksel, Regina Musicaro


Complex childhood trauma survivors often have global functioning and psychosocial issues and may be diagnosed with multiple disorders, a reality which can preclude trauma-informed treatment and lead to additional stigma. The disorder labeled “sluggish cognitive tempo” (SCT) is strongly correlated with childhood trauma and the symptoms match commonly resulting dissociative patterns. However, those with SCT may face label-based stigma that could limit opportunities for trauma-informed care. Also, they may face stigma that they are unable to recover if their disorder is stigmatized in a similar way to many mental illnesses. In a 3x3 vignette-based study featuring a story of a protagonist with dissociative, hypoactive symptoms (N = 372 college student participants), I investigated stigma of the label SCT (versus its proposed name change, cognitive disengagement hypoactivity syndrome (CDHS), and no label) and its perceived etiology (childhood trauma, biogenetic, or unknown). Key findings include that recovery optimism is higher when a disorder has a childhood trauma causal attribution, regardless of diagnostic label; and it is lower towards a biogenetic etiology. Inversely, blame was higher towards childhood trauma and unknown etiologies, but lower towards a biogenetic etiology. The SCT label also predicted significantly lower recovery optimism based on the name alone, but CDHS did not. Finally, baseline stigma towards the dissociative vignette protagonist tentatively suggests that people view those with dissociation as having low social status and low hope that they can recover. These novel findings have substantial clinical implications and are important research contributions that increase our awareness of how trauma recognition and diagnostic label impact perceptions.




stigma, childhood trauma, recovery optimism, dissociation, blame, sluggish cognitive tempo, mental illness, biogenetic disorders, causal attributions


Western Washington University

OCLC Number


Subject – LCSH

Psychic trauma in children; Optimism; Dissociation; Cognition disorders; Mental illness--Etiology




masters theses




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