The relationship between tonic immobility and the development, severity, and course of posttraumatic stress disorder : Systematic and meta-analytic literature review

Background: Tonic immobility (TI) is a reflexive, involuntary response that causes motor inhibition, vocal suppression, and analgesia. TI is elicited by extreme fear and perception of entrapment in a life-threatening situation. Research suggests that TI is a frequent peritraumatic response and may be related to subsequent posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, findings are mixed and, as of yet, no systematic or meta-analytic review examining associations between TI and PTSD has been published.


Objective: We systematically and meta-analytically reviewed the literature and investigated whether TI is associated with the development, severity, and course of PTSD. Additionally, we evaluated whether different types of traumatic events are differentially associated with TI, and whether TI severity differs according to sex. 


Methods: A systematic literature search was conducted using Embase, PubMed, PsycINFO, and Scopus. Meta-analyses were performed on the included articles. 


Results: We identified 27 eligible articles. We found a significant association between TI and PTSD symptom severity (r = 0.39, 95% CI: 0.34–0.44; p < .0001). TI was more severe among females (Cohen’s d=0.37, 95% CI: 0.25–0.48; p < .0001) and was more often elicited in situations involving interpersonal violence. We found limited longitudinal data to perform a meta-analysis of the association between TI and the development and/or course of PTSD. However, the literature available seems to support the role of TI in both the development and course of PTSD.

Conclusions: Peritraumatic TI is associated with PTSD symptom severity, occurs more often during interpersonal violence, and is more severe among females. More longitudinal research is needed to investigate the role of TI in psychopathology development and course.

Bruno Messina Coimbra, Chris Maria Hoeboer, Mirjam van Zuiden, Rachel E. Williamson, Ana Teresa D’Elia, Andrea Feijo Mello, Marcelo Feijo Mello, Miranda Olff | 2023
In: Journal of Anxiety Disorders ; ISSN: 0887-6185 | 97 | june | 102730
Adults, Assessment, Etiology, Females, Gender Issues, Interpersonal Violence, Literature Review, Mental health, Meta Analysis, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Psychotrauma, PTSD (en), Systematic Review, Tonic Immobility, Traumatic events
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