A machine learning approach to modeling PTSD and difficulties in emotion regulation

Psychiatry Res. 2021 Mar;297:113712. doi: 10.1016/j.psychres.2021.113712. Epub 2021 Jan 5.


Despite evidence for the association between emotion regulation difficulties and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), less is known about the specific emotion regulation abilities that are most relevant to PTSD severity. This study examined both item-level and subscale-level models of difficulties in emotion regulation in relation to PTSD severity using supervised machine learning in a sample of U.S. adults (N=570). Participants were recruited via Amazon's Mechanical Turk (MTurk) and completed self-report measures of emotion regulation difficulties and PTSD severity. We used five different machine learning algorithms separately to train each statistical model. Using ridge and elastic net regression results in the testing sample, emotion regulation predictor variables accounted for approximately 28% and 27% of the variance in PTSD severity in the item- and subscale-level models, respectively. In the item-level model, four predictor variables had notable relative importance values for PTSD severity. These items captured secondary emotional responding, experiencing emotions as out-of-control, difficulties modulating emotional arousal, and low emotional granularity. In the subscale-level model, lack of access to effective emotion regulation strategies, lack of emotional clarity, and emotional nonacceptance subscales had the highest relative importance to PTSD severity. Results from analyses modeling a probable diagnosis of PTSD based on DERS items and subscales are presented in supplemental findings. Findings have implications for developing more efficient, targeted emotion regulation interventions for PTSD.

Keywords: Emotion; Emotion regulation; PTSD; Supervised machine learning.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Emotional Regulation*
  • Emotions*
  • Humans
  • Machine Learning*
  • Models, Psychological
  • Self Report
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology*