PTSD symptoms and cognitive performance in recent trauma survivors

Psychiatry Res. 2002 Jul 31;110(3):231-8. doi: 10.1016/s0165-1781(02)00125-7.


Chronic post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has been associated with cognitive impairments involving memory and attention. The association between cognitive impairment and early PTSD symptoms is unknown, yet such association may lead to poorer processing of traumatic memories and thereby contribute to subsequent PTSD. This study evaluated the relationship between PTSD symptoms and cognitive functioning within 10 days of traumatic events. Forty-eight survivors were assessed for symptoms of PTSD, anxiety, depression and dissociation and for immediate and delayed verbal and figural memory, attention, learning and IQ. Survivors with high levels of PTSD symptoms showed impaired attention and immediate recall for figural information and lower IQ. They did not show, however, an impairment of verbal recall and learning. The observed difference was not explained by anxiety or dissociation. It disappeared, however, when the effect of depressive symptoms was controlled for. Lower IQ and impaired attention are associated with early PTSD and depressive symptoms. Poorer attention may have a role in shaping traumatic memories.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Chronic Disease
  • Cognition Disorders / complications*
  • Cognition Disorders / diagnosis
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Psychometrics
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / diagnosis
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology*
  • Survivors / psychology*