PhD Projects 2019-20

Funded projects

Exploring why interpersonal violence victims who develop a fear of sleep may also have more chronic and severe posttraumatic stress reactions.

Supervisor: Professor Cherie Armour c.armour@qub.ac.uk

Exposure to potentially traumatic events (e.g., motor vehicle accident, sexual abuse, physical assault) is prevalent among the general population. Large epidemiological studies have found that approximately 75% of the population have experienced a traumatic event with recent research reporting higher prevalence exceeding 85%. Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a highly debilitating disorder found to develop after exposure to a traumatic event resulting in symptoms including re-experiencing, emotional disturbances, avoidance, and hyperarousal. Individuals with PTSD often report sleep disturbances such as severe insomnia, trauma-related nightmares, and nocturnal panic attacks. The most frequently reported PTSD symptom is sleep disturbance and this symptom is also the most common reason as to why those with PTSD first seek help. Research is beginning to examine the role that trauma may have in developing a fear of sleep and how a fear of sleep may play a role in the onset and maintenance of PTSD. For example, in the case of interpersonal violence victimizations such as sexual assault, where the trauma occurs in a bedroom, those with resultant PTSD may begin to avoid the bedroom, the bed, and in turn sleep which can further exacerbate the PTSD. Research has also suggested that a fear of sleep could be related to attempts to avoid nightmares associated with PTSD. Given the high prevalence of trauma and PTSD among the population, the high rates of trauma-attributed sleep disturbances, and the relatively small literature on the interplay of these factors, this is an area ripe for exploration. This study will examine the relation between trauma exposure, PTSD, fear of sleep and trauma-related sleep disturbances (i.e., insomnia and nightmares) using a mixed methods approach. Better understanding of the underlying mechanisms will provide helpful knowledge about onset, maintenance and reciprocal relationships between trauma and fear of sleep that will have direct implications for treatment as well as prevention. This project will be conducted using data from diverse samples of trauma victims. The successful candidate will travel to the Medical University of South Carolina as part of the project to visit a trauma focused sleep laboratory.

Investigating unwanted sexual experiences (USE’s) in university students and the impact of such on psychological well-being – what role can be played by improved understanding of consent?

Supervisor: Professor Cherie Armour c.armour@qub.ac.uk

Most UK university students will have a positive experience at university, both academically and concerning their wider university experience. That said, unwanted sexual experiences (USE) including sexual harassment, attempted rape and rape are prevalent within wider society and much like many social issues, universities are affected by these same problems. The pervasiveness of USEs among university students has been well documented in the United States; less is known or understood with regards to such experiences among students studying at UK, or in particular NI universities. Research which has addressed USE among universities students continue to demonstrate the links between such experiences and significant adverse outcomes including various forms of psychological distress (e.g. post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety). Whilst empirical evidence relating to the nature, rate and frequency of USE as well as insight into the impacts of such experiences is sparse within the UK context, university policies and programs to prevent and respond to unwanted sexual incidents within university settings are beginning to emerge. Such policies and programs run the risk of being tokenistic without clear research evidence on the prevalence and risk correlates of victimization and perpetration, as well as insight into university student’s perceptions and understanding of the issue. Additionally, recent social and student activist movements across the globe have highlighted more so than ever issues associated with USE including the importance of understanding sexual consent. Such an understanding is important for both males and females regardless or sexual orientation. This PhD will address the current evidence gap by implementing a programme of mixed methods research including systematic reviews, survey data collection, focus groups and interviews. The current project will complement a project that will be conducted at Ulster University commencing in September 2019; allowing for a comprehensive overview of the topic from both Universities in Northern Ireland.

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