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Retrospective Assessment of Trauma

Challenges in the retrospective assessment of trauma: comparing a checklist approach to a single item trauma experience screening question (2016)


S. Frissa, S. L. Hatch, N. T. Fear, S. Dorrington, L. Goodwin and M. Hotopf



Research on trauma and its impact on mental health typically relies on self-reports which can be influenced by recall bias and an individual’s subjective interpretation of events. This study aims to compare responses on a checklist of life events with a trauma experience screening question, both of which assessed trauma experience retrospectively.

How was the study conducted?

A community sample of adults were asked about life events from a checklist before asking them whether they ever had a trauma experience, i.e. “an event that either puts them or someone close to them at risk of serious harm or death”.

What did we find?

Less than half of the sample who reported at least one life event on the checklist that qualified as a trauma reported a trauma experience that they perceived put them or close others at risk of serious harm. Women responders, those reporting early life traumas, and a greater number of lifetime trauma events were more likely to report a trauma experience. Current symptoms of Common Mental Disorder did not account for differences in reporting of trauma experiences.


Epidemiological approaches which require participants to make subjective judgement on the severity of the trauma experience will capture individual differences that we have shown are influenced by gender and previous trauma experience.


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