Lesson Idea – Understanding Etiologies With a Case Study

Travis DixonAbnormal Psychology, Biological Psychology, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Teaching Ideas

Even though the case of Due is a fictional one designed for the purposes of this activity, there are thousands of veterans like him. (Image from Daniele Salutari @unsplash.com)
  • This lesson is designed to help students understand how reduced function in the vmPFC might be connected with symptoms of PTSD. As with other similar lesson ideas, it tries to make the abstract more concrete by giving real-life examples. 

The Activity

Students are to read the following summary of Due, a fictionary Vietnamese War vetern. After reading the summary, they are to work together to be able to explain why Due is having these symptoms (see below in red). They should use the textbook to help them and can read this lesson as they work through this problem.

Due – An ex-Vietnamese War Veteran


Due is an ex-Vietnamese soldier from the American war in Vietnam. He still suffers from intrusive memories of some events, like the time he and his friends were caught by American soldiers and three of his friends and comrades were executed. Sometimes the memory of this event comes into Due’s mind and he can’t control it. Like, he’ll be just sitting and play chess with his friend and then suddenly the memories come back, or he will be in the grocery store and starts remembering that day.

Due underwent an fMRI scan and it was revealed that he has low function in his ventromedial prefrontal cortex, which is a common finding in people with PTSD.

If we consider that the prefrontal cortex plays an important role in executive cognitive functions (e.g. controlling information in our working memory), how could you explain Due’s intrusive memories?


The vmPFC (in yellow) is a specific part of the PFC that has been associated with PTSD symptoms. This could be because it plays a role in fear extinction and our executive cognitive control.