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

Nikki Honzel, Timothy Justus, Diane Swick

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)792-804
Number of pages13
JournalCognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2014


  • Dual task
  • ERP
  • Executive function
  • PTSD
  • Sternberg memory task
  • Working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Medicine(all)


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