Altered processing of visual emotional stimuli in posttraumatic stress disorder: An event-related potential study

Rotem Saar-Ashkenazy, Hadar Shalev, Magdalena K. Kanthak, Jonathan Guez, Alon Friedman, Jonathan E. Cohen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Patients with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) display abnormal emotional processing and bias towards emotional content. Most neurophysiological studies in PTSD found higher amplitudes of event-related potentials (ERPs) in response to trauma-related visual content. Here we aimed to characterize brain electrical activity in PTSD subjects in response to non-trauma-related emotion-laden pictures (positive, neutral and negative). A combined behavioral-ERP study was conducted in 14 severe PTSD patients and 14 controls. Response time in PTSD patients was slower compared with that in controls, irrespective to emotional valence. In both PTSD and controls, response time to negative pictures was slower compared with that to neutral or positive pictures. Upon ranking, both control and PTSD subjects similarly discriminated between pictures with different emotional valences. ERP analysis revealed three distinctive components (at ~300, ~600 and ~1000. ms post-stimulus onset) for emotional valence in control subjects. In contrast, PTSD patients displayed a similar brain response across all emotional categories, resembling the response of controls to negative stimuli. We interpret these findings as a brain-circuit response tendency towards negative overgeneralization in PTSD.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)165-174
Number of pages10
JournalPsychiatry Research - Neuroimaging
Issue number2
StatePublished - 30 Aug 2015


  • ERP
  • Emotion
  • Overgeneralization
  • PTSD
  • Trauma

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Neuroscience (miscellaneous)


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