Adolescent post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms differ between boys and girls, with the global connectivity stronger in the girls’ network, according to a study published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

Researchers of this preliminary study recruited participants from a junior high school approximately 2.5 years after a major earthquake hit the area. The participants (N=868) filled out the self-reported UCLA PTSD Reaction Index for DSM-IV questionnaires consisting of feedback about PTSD symptom severity. Of this sample, 57% were girls, the mean age was 13.4 years, and the mean PTSD Reaction Index score was 25.8. Additionally, 40.9% of participants met full PTSD criteria and 59.1% met probable PTSD criteria.

Results showed that girls had more connected symptoms of detachment, flashbacks, avoidance, and intrusive recollections, while boys had more connected symptoms of flashbacks, cue reactivity, diminished interests, and foreshortened future. According to the R package qgraph network estimations, girls had higher global (P <.05), concentration (P <.01), and association (P <.05) connectivity than boys. Based on node strength of the networks, there was a 70.6% increase in symptom centrality for girls, with the highest indicators being intrusive recollections, avoidance, detachment, irritability, and concentration issues. Boys had higher symptom centrality indices for nightmares, cue reactivity, diminished interest, avoiding thoughts, and foreshortened future.

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Future research needs to focus on a more diverse population with a diverse trauma, using a diagnostic tool as opposed to a self-reported questionnaire and long-term follow-ups rather than cross-sectional analysis.

In conclusion, this initial evidence points toward sex differences among adolescents experiencing PTSD symptoms, both in network connectivity and symptom centrality. Researchers noted that “[s]ex differences reflected in the co-occurrence of PTSD symptoms may merit more consideration in research and clinical practice.”


Cao X, Wang L, Cao C, et al. Sex differences in global and local connectivity of adolescent posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms [published online August 20, 2018]. J Child Psychol Psychiatry. doi:10.1111/jcpp.12963