Deficits in episodic memory and mental time travel in patients with post-traumatic stress disorder

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Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is characterized by impairments in mnestic functions, especially in the domain of episodic memory. These alterations might affect different aspects of episodic memory functioning. Here we tested PTSD patients and healthy controls (matched for age, sex and education) in a newly developed virtual reality episodic memory test (VR-EMT), a test for mental time travel, episodic future thinking, and prospective memory (M3xT). In a cross-validation experiment, their performance was further evaluated in the Rivermead Behavioral Memory Test (RBMT). PTSD patients demonstrated impairments in episodic memory formation and mental time travel and showed difficulties in utilizing information from episodic memory to solve problems. Diminished attention and concentration in PTSD did not account for performance deficits in these tasks but higher levels of negative arousal were found in PTSD patients. Furthermore, performance in the VR-EMT and RBMT in PTSD patients correlated negatively with self-reported measures of stress and depression. Our results suggest that deficits in episodic memory formation and mental time travel in PTSD lead to difficulties in utilizing the content of episodic memories for solving problems in the present or to plan future behavior. Clinical implications of these findings and suggestions for cognitive-behavioral treatment of PTSD are discussed.

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