How is attention related to PTSD?

Attention may be compromised in people with PTSD. Several tasks have been developed to assess attention. The most common task is The Stroop Colour Word Test, which presents colour names printed in an ink congruent to the colour name (e.g. blue), or incongruent to the colour name (e.g. blue). Participants are asked to either read the word or name the ink colour. A Stroop interference index is calculated by subtracting response times in the colour-naming condition from those in the incongruent condition. This serves as a measure of the attentional engagement, with more engagement indicating an attentional bias. The emotional Stroop task replaces colour-words with neutral and emotionally loaded stimuli (e.g., the word “violence” painted in blue compared to a neutral word in the same colour). Other tasks include the Continuous Performance Test that uses both visual and auditory stimuli and requires participants to respond to targets and ignore distractors. Also, the Trail Making Test requires participants to connect, in order, letters and/or numbers as quickly as possible.

What is the evidence for attention in people with PTSD?

Moderate to high quality evidence finds medium-sized effects of poorer attention in people with PTSD than in healthy controls (people not exposed to trauma and those without PTSD). Similar findings were apparent in both children and adults. People with PTSD had greater attentional interference with PTSD-relevant stimuli and with emotionally positive stimuli than with emotionally neutral stimuli. In sexual victimisation survivors with or without PSTD, a small effect showed more attentional bias for sexual threat stimuli in those with PTSD.

August 2021

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Last updated at: 11:57 am, 27th February 2022
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Tags:  Attention

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