Increases in retrospective accounts of war-zone exposure over time: the role of PTSD symptom severity

J Trauma Stress. 1998 Jul;11(3):597-605. doi: 10.1023/A:1024469116047.


Retrospective reports of the frequency of war-zone exposure are commonly used as objective indices in studies investigating the mental health consequences of exposure to such stressors. To explore the temporal stability of these types of reports, we obtained frequency estimates of exposure to war-zone stressors at two time points from 460 U.S. soldiers who had served in the peace-keeping mission in Somalia. On average; soldiers demonstrated a significant increase in their frequency reports from initial (postdeployment) to subsequent (follow-up) assessment. Severity of posttraumatic symptomatology was uniquely associated with this change, indicating a possible systematic bias in which severity of symptoms leads to increased reports of stressor frequency. The implications of these findings for research in the field of traumatic stress are discussed.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Bias
  • Combat Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Combat Disorders / psychology
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events
  • Male
  • Mental Recall
  • Personality Inventory / statistics & numerical data
  • Psychometrics
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Somalia
  • Veterans / psychology*
  • Warfare*