Neuropsychological function in college students with and without posttraumatic stress disorder

Psychiatry Res. 2004 May 30;126(3):265-74. doi: 10.1016/j.psychres.2004.01.008.


Previous research on the neuropsychology of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has identified several neurocognitive deficits that co-occur with the disorder. However, it remains unclear whether these deficits are due to trauma exposure, PTSD symptomatology or psychiatric/substance abuse comorbidity. We examined trauma exposure, PTSD symptoms and neuropsychological performance in 235 undergraduate students, i.e. a non-clinical sample. The sample comprised 146 subjects with trauma exposure (38 with current PTSD and 108 without lifetime PTSD) and 89 no-trauma comparison (NC) subjects who were administered tests of attention, working memory, psychomotor speed, word generation and executive functioning. Relationships of neuropsychological functioning to measures of psychiatric symptoms and substance abuse were examined. Current PTSD (PTSD+), trauma-exposed without PTSD (PTSD-) and NC subjects did not differ significantly on the vast majority of neuropsychological tests. There were very few significant associations between neuropsychological performance and clinical variables, and those that were statistically significant were small in magnitude. The striking lack of differences in neuropsychological performance between the three groups suggests that college students with trauma exposure, regardless of the presence of PTSD symptoms, may be cognitively resilient. Neuropsychological impairment may not be an invariant feature of PTSD, but when it is present, it may be associated with poorer functional outcomes.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cognition Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Cognition Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / epidemiology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires