The role of posttraumatic stress symptoms on memory complaints and performance in active-duty service members

Seth G. Disner, Elsa K. Mattson, Nathaniel W. Nelson, Patrick Armistead-Jehle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: Memory complaints are the most common form of cognitive limitation reported by military service members, but prior research suggests that posttraumatic stress symptoms (PTSS) may account for the link between subjective cognitive complaints and objective cognitive performance. The mechanisms underlying this relationship are largely unknown, including whether the finding applies to memory complaints and performance, which clinical dimensions are involved, and how the association varies when memory complaints are non-credible. Method: Using a sample of 196 US military service members, the present study aims to address these gaps by modeling the relationship between objective memory performance and plausible/implausible subjective memory complaints, then evaluating how the association is influenced by PTSS and clinical traits commonly found within PTSS (e.g. depression, anxiety, and somatic concerns). Results: Overall memory complaints were associated with immediate and delayed recall, but both associations were fully mediated by PTSS (95% CI −0.14, −0.01; 95% CI −0.14, −0.02, respectively). Implausible memory complaints, however, were inconsistently linked to memory performance, and no PTSS mediation was observed. Of the clinical traits, only depression moderated the impact of PTSS, specifically by influencing the link between PTSS and overall memory complaints (β = −0.02, SE = 0.004, p <.001). Conclusions: These results corroborate the importance of assessment for PTSS and depression in service members who report subjective memory complaints and highlight how targeted intervention for these conditions may play a key role in the management of memory complaints.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)141-156
Number of pages16
JournalClinical Neuropsychologist
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Rehabilitation Research and Development Career Development Award IK2RX002922 (PI: SGD) (Rehabilitation Research and Development Service). The materials presented here solely represent the views of the authors and do not represent the view of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Department of Defense, or the United States Government. The authors have no conflicts of interest to report.

Publisher Copyright:
© This work was authored as part of the Contributor’s official duties as an Employee of the United States Government and is therefore a work of the United States Government. In accordance with 17 U.S.C. 105, no copyright protection is available for such works under U.S. Law.


  • depression
  • free recall
  • memory
  • memory complaints
  • PTSD

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.


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