Information processing and PTSD: a review of the empirical literature

Clin Psychol Rev. 2000 Nov;20(8):1041-65. doi: 10.1016/s0272-7358(99)00030-6.


This article reviews a series of studies that have utilized information-processing paradigms with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) populations. The review suggests that pretrauma measures of intelligence (IQ) are predictive of the development of PTSD symptoms following trauma. There is also evidence of impaired performance on standardized tests of memory (independent of IQ) in PTSD populations. PTSD populations are found to exhibit deficits in memory function that may be due to hippocampus damage secondary to excessive neuroendocrine responses to conditioned stimuli. In addition, individuals with PTSD evince an attentional bias towards trauma-related stimuli at postrecognition stages of information processing. The review also includes that there is insufficient evidence to either support, or reject, the theoretical proposition that PTSD patients are sensitive to global valence effects at the earliest stages of information processing relative to traumatized non-PTSD populations. Finally, there is some evidence to suggest that the processes associated with autobiographical memory in PTSD populations are similar to those seen in depression. The implications of these findings for the behavioral and cognitive treatment of PTSD are discussed. Directions for future research with such paradigms are also discussed in light of contemporary information processing theories of PTSD.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Attention
  • Cognition
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy / methods*
  • Habituation, Psychophysiologic
  • Humans
  • Intelligence*
  • Memory*
  • Models, Neurological
  • Repression-Sensitization
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology*