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Will Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Affect My Attention?

A recent study has found that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) affects reading comprehension. This result supports the theory that PTSD impedes a sufferer’s ability to concentrate because they are constantly distracted by thoughts of their traumatic experience, or worries about danger.
The study: The researchers asked a group of veterans diagnosed with PTSD and a control group to read short paragraphs which described things in relation to real-world and imaginary objects. This method forced participants to draw on their own knowledge and to make inferences. For example, if you are told first that a tesk is larger than a watermelon, and then that a gort is larger than a tesk, you infer that a gort is larger than a watermelon. True/false questions after each paragraph tested the participants’ comprehension and integration of the information in the paragraph with their previous world knowledge.

What they found: Both groups were equally accurate in terms of their responses; however the group with PTSD took significantly longer both to examine the paragraph and to respond to the test questions.

What does this mean: The researchers theorize that the group with PTSD compensated for constant distraction by re-reading the text, resulting in longer response times. These results are consistent with the theory that people with PTSD’s ability to concentrate is impaired due to constant worry about perceived threats.

How does this result affect treatment approach: This finding is very important when considering treatment approach.  A person suffering from PTSD requires specific strategies and environmental accommodations to help them with their attention while reading.  They need to understand this attention difficulty is a very common and one that can be managed with the proper treatment.

Source: Sullivan, M. P., Griffiths, G. G., & Sohlberg, M. M. (2014). Effect of posttraumatic stress on study time in a task measuring four component processes underlying text-level reading. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 57 (5), 1731-1739.

Katherine Christ, honours Linguistics, Head of Research at Simone Friedman Speech-Language Services


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