Inducing moral elevation in veterans with PTSD: An experimental investigation using a mixed methods approach


Moral elevation is a positive emotion described as feeling inspired by others? virtuous actions. Elevation has several psychosocial benefits, some of which may be relevant to trauma-related distress; however, past studies have primarily examined elevation in nonclinical, civilian populations or in naturalistic studies. This experimental study used mixed methods to assess if veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) experience elevation when exposed to elevation stimuli in a controlled setting. Participants included 47 veterans with significant PTSD symptoms. Following baseline measures and a written trauma narrative, veterans were randomized to an elevation or amusement condition where they viewed two videos intended to elicit the condition emotion. Veterans also provided a written journal response describing their reaction to the videos. Self-report measures were administered after each study task to assess state-level elevation and amusement. Veterans randomized to the elevation condition reported significantly higher levels of elevation after videos compared to veterans in the amusement condition. Qualitative results offered further support for differences between groups and identified unique themes related to the experience of elevation. Overall, findings indicate it is possible to induce elevation in veterans with significant PTSD symptoms. Additionally, qualitative results highlight specific benefits of elevation and potential targets for treatment integration and future exploration.

Journal of Experimental Psychopathology
Adam P. McGuire
Adam P. McGuire
Assistant Professor of Psychology