Evidence for an attentional bias for washing- and checking-relevant stimuli in obsessive - Compulsive disorder

Steffen Moritz*, Adrian Von Mühlenen, Sarah Randjbar, Susanne Fricke, Lena Jelinek

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Citations (Scopus)


There is equivocal evidence whether or not patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) share an attentional bias for concern-related material and if so, whether this reflects hypervigilance towards or problems to disengage from disorder-related material. In a recent study, we failed to detect an attentional bias in OCD patients using an emotional variant of the inhibition of return (IOR) paradigm containing OCD-relevant and neutral words. We reinvestigated the research question with a more stringent design that addressed potential moderators. A new IOR paradigm was set up using visual stimuli. Forty-two OCD patients and 31 healthy controls were presented with neutral (e.g., cup), anxiety-relevant (e.g., shark), checking-relevant (e.g., broken door), and washing-relevant (e.g., dirty toilet) cue pictures at one of two possible locations. Following a short or long interval sensitive to automatic versus controlled processes, a simple target stimulus appeared at either the cued or the uncued location. OCD patients responded significantly slower to targets that were preceded by an OCD-relevant cue. Results lend support to the claim that OCD patients share a processing abnormality for concern-related visual material.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)365-371
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of the International Neuropsychological Society
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Anxiety disorders
  • Attention
  • Attentional bias
  • Checking
  • Inhibition of return
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder


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