Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric syndrome that develops after exposure to terrifying and life-threatening events including warfare, motor-vehicle accidents, and physical and sexual assault. The emotional experience of psychological trauma can have long-term cognitive effects. The hallmark symptoms of PTSD involve alterations to cognitive processes such as memory, attention, planning, and problem solving, underscoring the detrimental impact that negative emotionality has on cognitive functioning. As such, an important challenge for PTSD researchers and treatment providers is to understand the dynamic interplay between emotion and cognition. Contemporary cognitive models of PTSD theorize that a preponderance of information processing resources are allocated toward threat detection and interpretation of innocuous stimuli as threatening, narrowing one's attentional focus at the expense of other cognitive operations. Decades of research have shown support for these cognitive models of PTSD using a variety of tasks and methodological approaches. The primary goal of this review is to summarize the latest neurocognitive and neuroimaging research of emotion-cognition interactions in PTSD. To directly assess the influence of emotion on cognition and vice versa, the studies reviewed employed challenge tasks that included both cognitive and emotional components. The findings provide evidence for memory and attention deficits in PTSD that are often associated with changes in functional brain activity. The results are reviewed to provide future directions for research that may direct better and more effective treatments for PTSD.
Keywords: amygdala; anxiety; cognitive control; fMRI; memory; neuroimaging; neuropsychology; threat bias.