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Open Access Research article

Are subjective cognitive complaints related to memory functioning in the working population?

Cecilia UD Stenfors12*, Petter Marklund1, Linda L Magnusson Hanson2, Töres Theorell23 and Lars-Göran Nilsson1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Psychology, Stockholm University, 106 91 Stockholm, Sweden

2 Stress Research Institute, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden

3 Department of Public Health Sciences, Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden

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BMC Psychology 2014, 2:3  doi:10.1186/2050-7283-2-3

Published: 30 January 2014



Cognitive functioning is important for managing work and life in general. Some experience problems with cognitive functioning, often referred to as subjective cognitive complaints (SCC). These problems are rather prevalent in the working population and can be coupled with both lowered well-being and work ability.

However, the relation between SCC and memory functioning across the adult age-span, and in the work force, is not clear as few population-based studies have been conducted on non-elderly adults. Thus, the present study aimed to test the relation between SCC and actual declarative memory functioning in a population-based sample of employees.


Participants were 233 employees with either high (cases) or low (controls) levels of SCC. Group differences in neuropsychological tests of semantic and episodic memory, as well as episodic memory performance during higher executive demands (divided attention) were analysed through a set of analyses of covariance tests.


Significantly poorer episodic memory performance during divided attention (i.e. high executive demands) was found in the group with high SCC compared to controls with little SCC, while no group differences were found in semantic memory. No group differences were found in immediate or delayed episodic memory during focused attention conditions. Furthermore, depressive symptoms, chronic stress symptoms and sleeping problems were found to play a role in the relation between SCC and episodic memory during divided attention.


This study contributes to an increased understanding of what characterizes SCC in the work force and suggests a relation to poorer executive cognitive functioning.

Subjective cognitive complaints; Subjective cognitive impairment; Subjective memory impairment; Declarative memory; Memory performance; Population-based; Employed; Semantic memory; Episodic memory; Executive cognitive functioning