Attentional bias for trauma-related words: Exaggerated emotional Stroop effect in Afghanistan and Iraq war veterans with PTSD

Victoria Ashley, Nikki Honzel, Jary Larsen, Timothy Justus, Diane Swick

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

36 Scopus citations


Background: Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) involves debilitating symptoms that can disrupt cognitive functioning. The emotional Stroop has been commonly used to examine the impact of PTSD on attentional control, but no published study has yet used it with Afghanistan and Iraq war veterans, and only one previous study has compared groups on habituation to trauma-related words.Methods: We administered the emotional Stroop, the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI), and the PTSD Checklist (PCL) to 30 veterans with PTSD, 30 military controls, and 30 civilian controls. Stroop word types included Combat, Matched-neutral, Neutral, Positive and Negative.Results: Compared to controls, veterans with PTSD were disproportionately slower in responding to Combat words. They were also slower and less accurate overall, did not show interference on Negative or Positive words relative to Neutral, and showed a trend for delayed but successful habituation to Combat words. Higher PCL and BDI scores also correlated with larger interference effects.Conclusions: Because of its specificity in detecting attentional biases to trauma-related words, the emotional Stroop task may serve as a useful pre- and post task with intervention studies of PTSD patients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number86
JournalBMC Psychiatry
StatePublished - Mar 14 2013



  • Habituation
  • Interference
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder
  • PTSD
  • Stroop
  • Trauma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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