From PsychEvos Wiki


Trauma is a person's emotional response to a distressing experience. Traumatic events tend to be overwhelmingly powerful and menacing, and they can induce extreme feelings of fear, helplessness, and vulnerability. Examples of traumatic experiences include natural disasters, abuse, violence, accidents, and warfare. Trauma can have profound effects on an individual's mental and emotional well-being, leading to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other associated mental health issues[1].

Evolutionary Origins

An evolutionary perspective on trauma suggests that psychophysical reactions to traumatizing events evolved to ensure survival[2]. Several primitive mechanisms are associated with responses to diverse stressors, from immediate danger to life-threatening situations.


Sensitization is a process by which an organism becomes more responsive to threatening stimuli. It evolved to help organisms adapt to their environment and respond more effectively to potential dangers[3]. Sensitization increases vigilance and ensures that the individual is better prepared for future threats, thereby improving their chances of survival.


Dissolution refers to the temporary fragmentation or disintegration of the individual's psychological processes during a distressing experience[4]. This mechanism serves to protect the individual from the full impact of the traumatic event, allowing the brain to process and store the experience more effectively.

Fear and PTSD

Fear is the key emotion of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), an anxiety disorder that can develop after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. The evolved function of fear is to motivate survival via defensive behaviors[5]. Defensive behaviors have been highly conserved throughout mammalian species, and much can be learned from ethology (the study of animal behavior).

PTSD develops when an individual's fear response becomes maladaptive, resulting in persistent and debilitating symptoms, such as intrusive memories, flashbacks, avoidance, and hyperarousal. Although PTSD is an abnormal response to trauma, its core symptoms can be understood from an evolutionary perspective[6].

Inherited Trauma

There is ongoing debate as to whether trauma can be genetically or epigenetically inherited. While some studies suggest that the effects of trauma can be passed down through generations, causation has not yet been firmly established. Genetic predisposition, environmental factors, and a combination of these factors may all contribute to an individual's susceptibility to trauma-related disorders[7].


Though trauma can have far-reaching consequences for an individual's mental health and overall well-being, the evolutionary perspective seeks to understand the adaptive roots of these reactions. By examining features such as sensitization, dissolution, and fear, this perspective offers valuable insight on trauma and its long-term consequences. Further research in evolutionary psychology is necessary to understand the complex interplay between genetic factors, environmental stressors, and individual susceptibility to trauma-related disorders.