Veterans with PTSD did not show greater interference from irrelevant items in working memory – like a phone number you need to discard.
Swick, D., Cayton, J., Ashley, V., & Turken, A.U. (2017). Dissociation between working memory performance and proactive interference control in post-traumatic stress disorder. Neuropsychologia 96:111-121. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2017.01.005.
Deficits in working memory (WM) and cognitive control processes have been reported in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), in addition to clinical symptoms such as hypervigilance, re-experiencing, and avoidance of trauma reminders. Given the uncontrollable nature of intrusive memories, an important question is whether PTSD is associated with altered control of interference in WM. Some studies also suggest that episodic memory shows a material-specific dissociation in PTSD, with greater impairments in verbal memory and relative sparing of nonverbal memory. It is unclear whether this dissociation applies to WM, as no studies have used identical task parameters across material. Here we tested 29 combat Veterans with PTSD and 29 age-matched control Veterans on a recent probes WM task with words and visual patterns in separate blocks. Participants studied four-item sets, followed by a probe stimulus that had been presented in the previous set (recent probe) or not (nonrecent probe). Participants with PTSD made more errors than controls, and this decrement was similar for verbal and visual stimuli. Proactive interference from items recently presented, but no longer relevant, was not significantly different in the PTSD group and showed no relationship to re-experiencing symptom severity. These results demonstrate that PTSD is not reliably associated with increased intrusions of irrelevant representations into WM when non-emotional stimuli are used. Future studies that use trauma-related material may provide insight into the flashbacks and intrusive thoughts that plague those with PTSD.