PTSD as a Predictor of Differential Development of Dual Systems Model Constructs: A Group-Based Trajectory Modeling Approach

AuthorThomas Wojciechowski
Published date01 December 2022
Date01 December 2022
Subject MatterArticles
PTSD as a Predictor
of Differential Development
of Dual Systems Model
Constructs: A Group-Based
Trajectory Modeling Approach
Thomas Wojciechowski
The dual systems model is a prominent framework for understanding how differential cognitive
development of impulse control and sensation-seeking predicts peak involvement in risky behaviors
during adolescence. This study examines heterogeneity in the development of dual systems con -
structs and examines post-traumatic stress disorder as a driver of differential development. This
study utilized data from all 11 waves of the Pathways to Desistance study. Group-based trajectory
modeling was used to identify heterogeneity in developmental patterns of impulse control and sen-
sation-seeking. Multinomial logistic regression was used to assess the relevance of post-traumatic
stress disorder for predicting differential development. Results indicated that three-group models
provided best t to the data for both constructs. All groups in both models were highly stable
and demonstrated rank stability. Meeting criteria for a lifetime diagnosis of post-traumatic stress dis-
order predicted patterns of stable and high sensation-seeking, but did not predict development of
impulse control. Findings suggest that individuals suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder
should be targeted with programming to diminish sensation-seeking; potentially through criminal
justice system intervention.
dual systems model, impulse control, sensation-seeking, development, life-course, PTSD
Justice-involved youth (JIY) represent a population of adolescents that have experienced formal pro-
cessing from the juvenile and/or criminal justice systems. JIY are at increased risk for suffering from
mental illnesses (Underwood & Washington, 2016), including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
(Robertson et al., 2004). PTSD is characterized by antecedent trauma leading to onset of the disorder
which is followed by intrusive and distressing memories, ashbacks, and/or dreams recalling said
School of Criminal Justice, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI, USA
Corresponding Author:
Thomas Wojciechowski, School of Criminal Justice, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI, USA.
Criminal Justice Review
2022, Vol. 47(4) 503522
© 2022 Georgia State University
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/07340168221098371
antecedent trauma. Other important characteristics of the disorder include impulsivity and risk-taking
(American Psychiatric Association, 2013). These latter two characteristics correspond to constructs
within the dual systems model framework, a developmental psychological theory noted as relevant
for predicting why engagement in risky behavior peaks during adolescence. Differential develop-
ment of impulse control and sensation-seeking during this period of the life-course results in this ele-
vated risk. Traumatic stress, relevant as antecedent to PTSD, has been identied as a risk factor for
predicting variation in both of these constructs (Brady & Donenberg, 2006; Imas et al., 2018;
Sharkey et al., 2012; Sussman et al., 2020). Despite this, there is a dearth of research which has exam-
ined the relevance of PTSD within a dual systems model context for understanding how the disorder
may inuence differential development of impulse control and sensation-seeking. The present study
sought to ll this gap in the literature by examining how PTSD predicts developmental trajectories of
these constructs among a sample of JIY.
Dual Systems Model and Cognitive Development
The dual systems model is a framework centered on the relevance of differential development and
imbalance in development of sensation-seeking and impulse control (Steinberg et al., 2008).
Sensation-seeking refers to the drive to seek out novel, thrilling, and fun experiences. The socioemo-
tional system in the brain governs this construct and is comprised in part by the dopaminergic system
(Steinberg, 2010). These regions of the brain generally develop rapidly following puberty before
peaking as individuals begin to mature into emerging adulthood. This results in a rapid increase in a
drive to seek fun andthrilling experiences among adolescents, as the developmentof the dopaminergic
system results innovel dopamine surges when adolescents are faced with experienceswhich are excit-
ing and stimulating (Doremus-Fitzwater et al., 2010). Risky behaviors, like substance use, unprotected
sex, and/or delinquency, may present themselves as thrillingand result in dopamine rushes that in turn
provide reinforcement and reward for engagement.The issue here comes with a lackof development in
impulse control during this period of the life-course. Impulse control refers to the capacity to exert
control and stop and consider consequences of an action before engagement. The prefrontal cortex
is a major brain regionwithin the cognitive controlnetwork, which is responsible forcoordinating com-
municationbetween brain regions that allowsfor the exertion of impulse control.However, the prefron-
tal cortex is one of the nal regions of the brain to fully develop, generally not reachingmaturity until
adulthood (Spencer-Smith & Anderson, 2009). In this way, adolescents develop the drive to seek out
thrilling behaviors that may present a relatively high degree of risk and are rewarded and reinforced
with dopamine, but donot develop the capacity to stop and consider the consequences of engagement
until much laterin life. In this way, the dual systems model has helpedto explain the peak prevalenceof
engagement in risky behaviors during adolescence and has been applied as an explanatory framework
able to predict a range of such behaviors (Ellingson et al., 2019; Wasserman et al., 2017;
Wojciechowski, 2020a). However, while typical development in these constructs has been examined
to a large extent, there exist gaps in our understanding of heterogeneity that may exist in the develop-
ment of these constructs and factors that may drivedifferential development. By denition, JIY present
increased propensity for engagement in risky behaviors. It may be that atypical development of these
constructs maybe an underlying factorthat is driving this increased risk.For this reason, it is important
to identify risk factorsthat predict problematic development of these constructs among this population.
One potential driver of development that may be particularly relevant here is PTSD.
PTSD as a Potential Driver of Differences in Dual Systems Development
PTSD may be a particularly relevant mental disorder for understanding variation in development of
dual systems model constructs among JIY. Prevalence of PTSD among JIY has been observed at
504 Criminal Justice Review 47(4)

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