Falling out of time: Enhanced memory for scenes presented at behaviorally irrelevant points in time in posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

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Abstract

Spontaneous encoding of the visual environment depends on the behavioral relevance of the task performed simultaneously. If participants identify target letters or auditory tones while viewing a series of briefly presented natural and urban scenes, they demonstrate effective scene recognition only when a target, but not a behaviorally irrelevant distractor, appears together with the scene. Here, we show that individuals with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), who witnessed the red sludge disaster in Hungary, show the opposite pattern of performance: enhanced recognition of scenes presented together with distractors and deficient recognition of scenes presented with targets. The recognition of trauma-related and neutral scenes was not different in individuals with PTSD. We found a positive correlation between memory for scenes presented with auditory distractors and re-experiencing symptoms (memory intrusions and flashbacks). These results suggest that abnormal encoding of visual scenes at behaviorally irrelevant events might be associated with intrusive experiences by disrupting the flow of time.

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Levy-Gigi, E., & Kéri, S. (2012). Falling out of time: Enhanced memory for scenes presented at behaviorally irrelevant points in time in posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PLoS ONE, 7(7). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0042502

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