Traumatic memories of war veterans: not so special after all

Conscious Cogn. 2007 Mar;16(1):170-7. doi: 10.1016/j.concog.2006.02.005. Epub 2006 Apr 18.


Several authors have argued that traumatic experiences are processed and remembered in a qualitatively different way from neutral events. To investigate this issue, we interviewed 121 Croatian war veterans diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) about amnesia, intrusions (i.e., flashbacks and nightmares), and the sensory qualities of their most horrific war memories. Additionally, they completed a self-report scale measuring dissociative experiences. In contrast to what one would expect on the basis of theories emphasizing the special status of traumatic memories, amnesia, and high frequency intrusions were not particularly typical for our sample of traumatized individuals. Moreover, traumatic memories were not qualitatively different from neutral memories with respect to their stability and sensory qualities. The severity of PTSD symptoms was not significantly correlated with dissociative experiences. Our findings do not support the existence of special memory mechanisms that are unique to experiencing traumatic events.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Croatia
  • Dissociative Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Dissociative Disorders / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events
  • Male
  • Mental Recall*
  • Middle Aged
  • Periodicity
  • Prevalence
  • Recurrence
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / epidemiology*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Veterans / psychology*
  • Warfare*