The contribution of posttraumatic stress disorder to verbal learning and memory performance profiles in major depression

Diane L Scheiner, Fordham University


Learning and memory deficits for verbal information is the most robust neurocognitive (NC) finding associated with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), but the clinical complexity of PTSD samples—and high rates of comorbid Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) specifically—contributes to lack of clarity surrounding how trauma and PTSD syndromes impact this crucial capacity. As both PTSD and MDD are associated with NC disturbance, it remains unclear whether PTSD-associated deficits are appreciably worse than those associated with MDD alone. The current study examined the extent to which verbal learning and memory deficits in PTSD are related to comorbid depression; whether there is an additive, detrimental impact of PTSD diagnosis in this population; and whether there exists a distinct verbal learning and memory performance profile associated with diagnosis of PTSD when it presents with concurrent MDD. The study also sought to demonstrate that deficits in attention/working memory and executive function do not account for learning and memory findings within this population. Methods: Neurocognitive and psychiatric data from two hundred sixty-seven participants (25 with PTSD /MDD, 148 with MDD alone, and 94 Non-Patients), recruited through the Conte Center for Study of the Neuroscience of Mental Disorders at New York State Psychiatric Institute/Columbia University Medical Center, were examined. Detailed analyses of groups' verbal information encoding, storage, and retrieval behavior were performed. Results: PTSD/MDD patients demonstrated verbal learning and memory deficits compared to Non-Patient controls and patients with MDD alone. Trial-by-Trial analysis of recall behavior on the Buschke Selective Reminding Test revealed deficits resulted from poorer encoding and retrieval, and not impaired retention. No deficits were associated with MDD diagnosis alone. Current MDD diagnosis and depression symptom severity did not account for the deficits in the PTSD comorbid sample, nor did attention/working memory or executive function. Conclusions: Comorbid PTSD, in the context of MDD, is a unique and significant contributor to the verbal learning and memory deficits observed in this population. The current study represents an important step toward disentangling the combined impact of PTSD and MDD diagnoses upon NC function.

Subject Area

Clinical psychology|Cognitive psychology

Recommended Citation

Scheiner, Diane L, "The contribution of posttraumatic stress disorder to verbal learning and memory performance profiles in major depression" (2013). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3598860.