Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric syndrome that develops after exposure to terrifying and life-threatening events. The emotional experience of psychological trauma can have long-term cognitive effects.
The 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.
Contemporary cognitive models of PTSD theorise 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.
Stress and anxiety serve the important functions of preparing an individual to meet the demands of everyday life and increasing the chance for survival.
It is therefore not surprising that arousing and emotionally salient stimuli readily capture attention and have a powerful influence on how information is processed, encoded, stored, and retrieved.
However, extreme levels of stress can have a devastating effect on healthy functioning. PTSD is characterised by disruptive memories and nightmares, avoidance of reminders of the event, and hyper-vigilance toward potential threats in the environment, alterations to cognitive processes such as memory, attention, planning, and problem solving, underscoring the impact that emotion has on cognitive functioning.
In PTSD, networks representing information about fear become highly elaborated and accessible, which has implications for encoding and retrieval of information. For instance, an elaborated fear structure may lower one's capacity to process non-threat related information, leading to attentional bias toward potential threats in the environment (Chemtob et al., 1988).
Furthermore, nodes of the fear network representing threat arousal may predispose an individual to interpret even innocuous stimuli as threatening. Intrusive memories result from spreading activation of the threat arousal node to related threat nodes, while nodes representing opposing alternatives become inhibited. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnint.2012.00089/full