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Hagenaars, Muriel

Hagenaars, Muriel


Scared stiff; Defensive immobility revisited

Research Question

During my stay at the NIAS I will address the following questions:

– How can different sorts of immobility be distinguished (e.g., shared and specific markers)?

– How can findings in animals be translated to humans (e.g., timing, cognition)?

– Which immobility type is addressed by the different research paradigms in humans?

– How does immobility relate to neighbouring constructs such as learned helplessness and dissociation?

Project Description

When in danger animals show fight, flight or defensive immobility. Although humans share these stress-behaviors, the last (immobility; “scared stiff”) has been relatively ignored. In my VENI project I showed that immobility during trauma is an important predictor of psychopathology, especially posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Immobility also predicts poorer treatment outcome. The next step is to find out why. Insight in its mechanisms may result in improvement of prevention and treatment strategies. However, several translational problems (animal/human and laboratory/clinical translations) hinder progress. I published an animal/human model as a first step. At the NIAS I will focus on theoretical deepening, clarifying different immobility constructs and strengthening an overarching theoretical framework. I will also set the ground for follow-up research into underlying mechanisms.

Selected Publications

1) Hagenaars, M.A. (2016). Tonic immobility in a large community sample. Journal of Experimental Psychopathology, 7, 246-260.

2) Hagenaars, M.A. Oitzl, M. & Roelofs, K. (2014). Updating freeze: Aligning animal and human research. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 47, 165-176.

3) Hagenaars, M.A., Stins, J., & Roelofs, K. (2012). Aversive life events enhance human freezing responses. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 141, 98-105.

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