Attention deficits as a key player in the symptomatology of posttraumatic stress disorder: A review

Janne L. Punski-Hoogervorst, Batya Engel-Yeger, Avi Avital

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a debilitating psychiatric disorder characterized by symptoms such as re-experiencing of the psychotrauma and hyperarousal. Although current literature mainly discusses the emotionally related aspects of these symptoms, studies also highlight the relation between re-experiencing, hyperarousability, and attention deficits, which are associated with poorer daily function and reduced quality of life. This review provides a comprehensive analysis of the existing research on attention deficits among adults with PTSD. A systematic search through five databases resulted in the inclusion of 48 peer-reviewed, English-language articles, describing 49 distinct studies. Using a total of 47 different attentional assessment tools, the majority of studies investigated sustained (n = 40), divided (n = 16), or selective (n = 14) attention. A total of 30 studies (61.2%) found significant correlations between PTSD symptoms and attention deficits, and 10 studies (20.4%) found that higher levels of attention deficits were predictive of worse PTSD symptoms. Moreover, neuroimaging results of six (f)MRI and three EEG studies identified various potential neurobiological pathways involved, including (pre)frontal attention networks. Together, the body of research shows that attention deficits in individuals with PTSD are common and occur in surroundings with emotionally neutral stimuli. Nonetheless, current treatment strategies do not target these attentional difficulties. We propose a novel perspective to PTSD diagnosis and treatment strategies based on attention deficits and their relation with top-down regulation of re-experiencing and subsequent other PTSD symptoms.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1068-1085
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Neuroscience Research
Issue number7
Early online date20 Feb 2023
StatePublished - Jul 2023


  • attention
  • attention deficit
  • attentional dysregulation
  • posttraumatic stress disorder

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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