Posttraumatic stress disorder is associated with limited executive resources in a working memory task

Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci. 2014 Jun;14(2):792-804. doi: 10.3758/s13415-013-0219-x.


Patients with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can show declines in working memory. A dual-task design was used to determine whether these impairments are linked to executive control limitations. Participants performed a Sternberg memory task with either one or four letters. In the dual-task condition, the maintenance period was filled with an arrow flanker task. PTSD patients were less accurate on the working memory task than were controls, especially in the dual-task condition. In the single-task condition, both groups showed similar patterns of brain potentials from 300 to 500 ms when discriminating old and new probes. However, when taxed with an additional task, the event-related potentials (ERPs) of the PTSD group no longer differentiated old and new probes. In contrast, interference resolution processes in both the single- and dual-task conditions of the flanker task were intact. The lack of differentiation in the ERPs reflects impaired working memory performance under more difficult, dual-task conditions. Exacerbated difficulty in performing a working memory task with concurrent task demands suggests a specific limitation in executive control resources in PTSD.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Afghan Campaign 2001-
  • Association
  • Brain Mapping
  • Electroencephalography
  • Evoked Potentials / physiology*
  • Executive Function / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Iraq War, 2003-2011
  • Male
  • Memory Disorders / etiology*
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / complications*
  • Veterans
  • Young Adult