PTSD Symptoms Lead to Modification in the Memory of the Trauma: A Prospective Study of Former Prisoners of War

Objective: With the growing interest in the role of trauma memory in posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), this prospective study examined long-term changes in memory and the bidirectional relationship between symptoms of PTSD and trauma memory.

Method: A sample of Israeli former prisoners of the 1973 Yom Kippur War (N = 103) was assessed in 1991 and in 2008. Participants’ PTSD symptom clusters, measured by the PTSD Inventory, and recollections of subjective and objective exposure during captivity, measured by a self-report questionnaire, were assessed at both times. Data on prewar and postwar negative life events and psychotherapy were also collected.

Results: Repeated-measures analysis revealed that participants’ recollections were increasingly negative over time (P < .001). Applying an autoregressive cross-lagged modeling strategy showed that the PTSD symptoms of hyperarousal facilitated subsequent amplifications in their recollections (P < .01).

Conclusions: These findings challenge the accuracy of reports of traumatic experiences and show that PTSD symptoms, in part, lead to the formation of more negative recollections over time. The findings suggest that the original memory is repeatedly updated under the influence of the individual’s emotional state. The findings are discussed in the context of the reconsolidation theory of memory.

J Clin Psychiatry 2016;77(3):e290–e296

https://doi.org/10.4088/JCP.14m09114