Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Ph.D. in Psychology



First Advisor

Stefan E. Schulenberg

Second Advisor

Steven Skultety

Third Advisor

Laura J. Dixon

Relational Format



In April of 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil platform exploded, releasing millions of barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico, becoming the largest oil spill in U.S. history. Disasters often lead to a decrease in psychological well-being for those affected by the disaster. Positive psychological constructs such as resilience and perceived meaning in life have been shown to be significant protective factors against the negative psychological effects of a disaster. Utilizing a sample of 1119 adults seeking mental health services along the coast of Mississippi after the spill, the current study aimed to investigate the relationship between these protective factors and posttraumatic stress and to investigate if sex moderates the relationship between posttraumatic stress and protective factors. An independent samples t-test determined that there were no significant differences in perceived resilience or perceived meaning between the non-effects and effects groups. An independent samples t-test determined that those who reported an effect from the spill endorsed higher levels of posttraumatic stress. Multiple hierarchical regression analysis determined that after controlling for the impact of the spill in the perceived effects group, resilience and perceived meaning were significant predictors of posttraumatic stress symptoms. Moderation analyses were conducted using the ordinary least squares regression-based method. It was found that meaning in life did not serve as a moderator in the relationship between resilience and posttraumatic stress. An independent samples t-test determined that there were no significant differences in reported levels of posttraumatic stress symptoms between males and females in the effects group. Lastly, it was determined that sex did not moderate the relationship between resilience and posttraumatic stress symptoms or between perceived meaning in life and posttraumatic stress symptoms. Overall, this study further demonstrates the importance of resilience and perceived meaning as protective factors to consider when examining individuals who have been impacted by a specific technological disaster. Additionally, this study adds discrepant data to the assumption that posttraumatic stress differs by sex. Finally, this study adds to the movement in disaster mental health literature to broaden the focus to protective factors, recovery, and growth post-disaster. Implications for these data are discussed.


Emphasis: Clinical Psychology



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