Cognitive characteristics of children and adolescents with post-traumatic stress disorders
Cognitive problems are among the important and common sequelae in child patients with
PTSD, for example poor memory, poor concentration, intrusive thoughts and flashbacks
(e.g., Yule, &Gold 1993; Last; 1993). In recent years, investigators have started to study
these functions in adults with PTSD, but they have yet to be investigated in young people
with PTSD. Therefore, following extensive investigations of cognitive processing in
adults with anxiety disorder including PTSD, it is proposed to apply some of these
paradigms to investigate PTSD in children.
Chapter One presents a general introduction describing the background to the work and
an outline of the proposed studies. Chapter Two describes the concept of PTSD,
phnomenology, classification of PTSD and PTSD in children and finally three noncognitive
theories of PTSD. Two basic concepts of cognition i.e. memoiy and attention
are described in Chapter Three. Cognitive theories of emotional disorders especially that
of Williams et al. (1988) and cognitive models of PTSD are presented. Chapter Four
describes how a dictionaiy of emotional words was developed and a list of different types
of emotional words was created.
In the first experiment in Chapter 5, young people with PTSD, children of adults with
PTSD and normal subjects, participated in a colour naming task. The task consisted of
5 categories of words: threat-related depressed-related, trauma-related, positive and
neutral words which appeared randomly, one after the other on the screen of a computer
in four different colours three times. The results indicated that the PTSD patients had a
greater interference toward trauma-related words than other types of words compared to
the control group. Children of adults with PTSD showed an attentional bias towards
trauma-related and threat-related words.
Chapter Six describes a second experiment on attention with children with PTSD. Four
types of words -physical threat, social threat, depressed and neutral words- were
presented to the subjects one after the other. The subjects were asked to press a buttonwhen they saw a dot on the screen of the computer. The results showed that the PTSD
patients shifted their attention towards threat words, while their attention shifted away
from depressed words.
Chapter Seven describes an investigation on recall and recognition with young people
with PTSD and children of adults with PTSD compared with controls. The findings
indicated that PTSD patients generally recalled fewer words than controls which
confirmed poor memory in young people with PTSD, but both experimental groups did
not show any memory bias towards a particular type of emotional words on the recall or
Chapter Eight compared the findings of PTSD and controls' performance on the
Rivermead Behavioural Memory Test (Wilson et.al ., 1990, RBMT). PTSD patients
showed a poor memory performance on this task compared with normal subjects. They
particularly had impairment in prospective items (those items which related to the future),
story immediate and delayed recall and orientation.
A final chapter presents a full discussion of the results of the emprical studies and
discusses possible implications for future research.