A Quantitative Meta-Analysis of Neurocognitive Functioning in Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

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Abstract

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is associated with regional alterations in brain structure and function that are hypothesized to contribute to symptoms and cognitive deficits associated with the disorder. We present here the first systematic meta-analysis of neurocognitive outcomes associated with PTSD to examine a broad range of cognitive domains and describe the profile of cognitive deficits, as well as modifying clinical factors and study characteristics. This report is based on data from 60 studies totaling 4,108 participants, including 1,779 with PTSD, 1,446 trauma-exposed comparison participants, and 895 healthy comparison participants without trauma exposure. Effect-size estimates were calculated using a mixed-effects meta-analysis for 9 cognitive domains: attention/working memory, executive functions, verbal learning, verbal memory, visual learning, visual memory, language, speed of information processing, and visuospatial abilities. Analyses revealed significant neurocognitive effects associated with PTSD, although these ranged widely in magnitude, with the largest effect sizes in verbal learning (d = −.62), speed of information processing (d = −.59), attention/working memory (d = −.50), and verbal memory (d =−.46). Effect-size estimates were significantly larger in treatment-seeking than community samples and in studies that did not exclude participants with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and effect sizes were affected by between-group IQ discrepancies and the gender composition of the PTSD groups. Our findings indicate that consideration of neuropsychological functioning in attention, verbal memory, and speed of information processing may have important implications for the effective clinical management of persons with PTSD. Results are further discussed in the context of cognitive models of PTSD and the limitations of this literature.

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