Effects of obsessive-compulsive symptoms on neuropsychological test performance

Complicating an already complicated story

Steffen Moritz*, Birgit Hottenrott, Lena Jelinek, Amanda M. Brooks, Armin Scheurich

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

27 Citations (Scopus)


Theoretical models of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) implicate neurocognitive dysfunction, particularly deficits in nonverbal memory and executive functioning, in the pathogenesis of the disorder. The opposite hypothesis (poor performance in neuropsychological test as an epiphenomenon of OCD symptoms) has rarely been contemplated although checking behavior, obsessional doubt, lack of motivation, and slowness as well as preoccupation with touching objects may result in secondary test impairment and mimic manifestations of neural dysfunction. A total of 60 patients with OCD and 30 healthy controls were tested with a multi-functional neuropsychological battery. At the end of the testing participants were asked about their effort and the severity of OCD symptoms during task execution. Up to one fourth of the OCD patients affirmed OCD-related worries and motivational problems during task execution. Poor motivation and checking were significantly associated with enhanced objective performance deficits. Whereas the present study does not negate a role of neurocognitive deficits in the formation of OCD, in our view the reverse relationship should be contemplated as well. We advise researchers to pay closer attention to possible confounds that may mediate the relationship between OCD and neurocognition. Limitations of the study are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)31-44
Number of pages14
JournalClinical Neuropsychologist
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Cognition
  • Effort
  • Motivation
  • Neuropsychology
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder

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