Front. Integr. Neurosci., 09 October 2012 | doi: 10.3389/fnint.2012.00089

Emotion and cognition interactions in PTSD: a review of neurocognitive and neuroimaging studies

  • 1National Center for PTSD, VA Boston Healthcare System, Boston, MA, USA
  • 2Department of Psychiatry, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, MA, USA
  • 3Department of Psychology, Tufts University, Medford, MA, USA
  • 4Department of Psychiatry, The Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA, USA

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric syndrome that develops after exposure to terrifying and life-threatening events including warfare, motor-vehicle accidents, and physical and sexual assault. The emotional experience of psychological trauma can have long-term cognitive effects. The hallmark symptoms of PTSD involve alterations to cognitive processes such as memory, attention, planning, and problem solving, underscoring the detrimental impact that negative emotionality has on cognitive functioning. As such, an important challenge for PTSD researchers and treatment providers is to understand the dynamic interplay between emotion and cognition. Contemporary cognitive models of PTSD theorize that a preponderance of information processing resources are allocated toward threat detection and interpretation of innocuous stimuli as threatening, narrowing one's attentional focus at the expense of other cognitive operations. Decades of research have shown support for these cognitive models of PTSD using a variety of tasks and methodological approaches. The primary goal of this review is to summarize the latest neurocognitive and neuroimaging research of emotion-cognition interactions in PTSD. To directly assess the influence of emotion on cognition and vice versa, the studies reviewed employed challenge tasks that included both cognitive and emotional components. The findings provide evidence for memory and attention deficits in PTSD that are often associated with changes in functional brain activity. The results are reviewed to provide future directions for research that may direct better and more effective treatments for PTSD.

Keywords: neuropsychology, fMRI, amygdala, threat bias, cognitive control, memory, anxiety, neuroimaging

Citation: Hayes JP, VanElzakker MB and Shin LM (2012) Emotion and cognition interactions in PTSD: a review of neurocognitive and neuroimaging studies. Front. Integr. Neurosci. 6:89. doi: 10.3389/fnint.2012.00089

Received: 16 May 2012; Paper pending published: 03 July 2012;
Accepted: 18 September 2012; Published online: 09 October 2012.

Edited by:

Lihong Wang, Duke University, USA

Reviewed by:

Robin L. Aupperle, University of Missouri, USA
Apostolos Georgopoulos, University of Minnesota, USA

Copyright © 2012 Hayes, VanElzakker and Shin. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in other forums, provided the original authors and source are credited and subject to any copyright notices concerning any third-party graphics etc.

*Correspondence: Jasmeet P. Hayes, National Center for PTSD (116B-2), VA Boston Healthcare System, 150 S. Huntington Ave., Boston, MA 02130, USA. e-mail:

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