Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science


Clinical Psychology

First Advisor

Scott Vrana


The purpose of the current study was to examine the effects of warfare exposure and unit cohesion on posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptomatology among male and female National Guard and Reserve service members deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan. National Guard and Reserve soldiers and female service members have been shown to be at greatest risk of psychological distress, and thus identification of resiliency factors among this population is worthy of further study. An emerging body of research has identified unit cohesion as a potentially modifiable protective factor against the deleterious effects of warfare exposure; however, such research is in its early stages, with female service members consistently reporting less unit cohesion than male service members. National Guard and Reserve soldiers (N = 463; 418 men and 45 women) age 19 to 59 were assessed on measures of warfare exposure, PTSD symptomatology, and degree of unit cohesion immediately following deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan. Results demonstrated that greater exposure to warfare was associated with more severe PTSD symptoms for both men and women. Specifically, combat experiences involving the threat of direct attack or personal injury tended to occur together and were the most significant risk factors for increased PTSD symptomatology. In addition, female service members in our sample reported significantly lower levels of unit cohesion than male service members, a finding that is consistent with the nascent research on gender differences in cohesion. Although the current study did not find greater unit cohesion to be a buffer against the effects of warfare exposure on PTSD severity, there was a direct effect: greater unit cohesion was associated with less PTSD symptomatology above and beyond the effects of demographic control variables. This relationship held for both male and female service members. Future research should aim to establish causality by examining these constructs longitudinally, with a focus on uncovering the mechanisms by which unit cohesion may lead to fewer PTSD symptoms.


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