Higher Self-Reported Posttraumatic Stress Symptoms Are Associated With Poorer Working Memory in Active-Duty Service Members

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: Posttraumatic stress is a significant issue facing military service members and can negatively impact working memory (WM), which is critical for performance success. Yet, few studies have examined the link between self-reported posttraumatic stress symptoms (PTSS) and WM performance in active-duty military cohorts. The present study utilized hierarchical linear modeling to examine this relationship by considering PTSS and underlying symptom clusters as well asWMdemands related to load and affective interference in an active-duty military cohort (N = 515). Method: PTSS severity was assessed via the posttraumatic stress disorder checklist—military version (PCL-M), and behavioral performance was measured on a delayedrecognitionWMtask that manipulated mnemonic load (low vs. high load) and affective interference (negative combat-related vs. neutral civilian images presented during the delay interval). Results: Examination of the relationship between PCL-M and WM performance demonstrated that higher total PCL-M scores (especially higher numbing and hyperarousal symptoms)were associated with poorerWMtask performance, b = −0.083, p =.003, 95% CI [−0.137, −0.029], even after controlling for combat experiences and previous deployment status. This relationship was stronger on trials with negative, b = −0.114, p <.001, 95% CI [−0.175, −0.054], compared to neutral distracters, b = −0.052, p =.093, 95% CI [−0.112, 0.009]. Conclusions: These results suggest that PTSS are associated with performance costs on a WM task with combat-related negative distracters. Broadly, these findings highlight the need to address PTSS in active-duty cohorts and further investigate vulnerabilities related to cognitive demands and psychological health.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)718-730
Number of pages13
Issue number7
StatePublished - 2021


  • affective interference
  • military
  • PCL-M

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology


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