Development and evaluation of online tests of executive function as a marker of PTSD in UK service leavers 


An estimated 4% of UK service-personnel suffer from PTSD, with estimates for those deployed to combat roles rising as high as 17%. Poor mental health in veterans is associated with an increased risk of developing problems in their social and occupational lives, physical health and alcohol misuse. Barriers preventing access to appropriate support include the stigmatisation of mental health problems and mistrust of mental health services. Health practitioners are also generally unaware of patients’ military service, and are unlikely to link physiological symptoms to previous exposure to trauma or experience of combat.

For veterans who do choose to access mental health support services, obtaining a diagnosis can be problematic. Diagnosis of PTSD is based on self-report measures, such as the Primary Care PTSD Screen for DSM-5. These lack sensitivity for three reasons: First, reported PTSD symptoms overlap with other mental health disorders, reducing the accuracy of diagnosis. Second, veterans may manage self-esteem by under-reporting PTSD symptoms. Third, the PC-PTSD performs better in comparatively older veterans, consequently reducing the sensitivity of clinical measures among working age veterans.

Study Objectives

The cause of PTSD is not well understood, but the complex symptoms are thought to reflect subtle, trauma-related changes in brain processes associated with cognitive functions called "executive control." These functions play a critical role in emotional regulation, and are thought to underpin clinical symptoms of PTSD by reducing sufferers’ ability to disengage from intrusive thoughts and emotional triggers.

The aim of this project is to develop and evaluate objective tests of two components of executive control: inhibition and sustained attention. Scores on these tests will be compared with self-report measures of PTSD to establish their sensitivity to the presence and severity of symptoms in UK service leavers. It is hoped the tests will provide clinicians objective measures of cognitive abilities that are sensitive to the severity of PTSD symptoms in UK service veterans. If effective, the tests will be used to increase the accuracy of PTSD diagnosis and the evaluation of treatments available to veterans via existing and future mental health support services.

Study Details

We are recruiting UK veterans who have been on operational tours with any of the armed services. Participants should be under 65 years of age and can be male or female.

The study includes 2 stages. Stage 1 will be conducted at the University of Leicester's George Davies Centre. Stage 2 will be an online study.

Participants of Stage 1 will need to be able to travel to the University campus. During the session, we may use non-invasive techniques to measure your eye movements and brain activity (EEG). Participants will receive £60.00 to cover the cost of their journey and compensate for their time.

Stage 1

Where How long What is involved
George Davies Centre Up to 4 hours
including breaks
Complete questionnaires before your visit
Completing a series of computer-based visual tasks and an interview during your visit

Stage 2

Where How long What is involved
Online Up to 2 hours
including breaks
Completing a series of online computer-based visual tasks and questionnaires

How to Participate

If you would like to participate in the study, please contact Dr Sam Tyler at: or register your interest using the form below. Sam will then send you:

  1. An Information Sheet
  2. A unique link that you can use to access an online consent form and questionnaire - this information is sent to us securely.

Sam will also arrange a day and time that is convenient for you to visit the George Davies Centre on the University of Leicester's campus.

George Davies Centre,
Lancaster Road,
LE1 7HA.

Register your interest

Study Team

The study is being conducted by a team of researchers and clinicians at the University of Leicester's School of Psychology and Vision Sciences.

First Name Last Name Email Address Role
Doug Barrett Principal Investigator
Sam Tyler Postdoctoral Research Associate
John Maltby Co Investigator
Sarah Gunn Co Investigator
Claire Hutchinson Co Investigator


This is a 2 year study funded by the UK Government's Office for Veterans' Affairs.

More Information

If you would like to know more about the lab's work, see our other pages here.