The role of working memory in compulsive checking and OCD:a systematic classification of 58 experimental findings


Despite the large body of research regarding the role of memory in OCD, the results are described as mixed at best (Hermans et al., 2008). For example, inconsistent findings have been reported with respect to basic capacity, intact verbal, and generally affected visuospatial memory. We suggest that this is due to the traditional pursuit of OCD memory impairment as one of the general capacity and/or domain specificity (visuospatial vs. verbal). In contrast, we conclude from our experiments (i.e., Harkin & Kessler, 2009, 2011; Harkin, Rutherford, & Kessler, 2011) and recent literature (e.g., Greisberg & McKay, 2003) that OCD memory impairment is secondary to executive dysfunction, and more specifically we identify three common factors (EBL: Executive-functioning efficiency, Binding complexity, and memory Load) that we generalize to 58 experimental findings from 46 OCD memory studies. As a result we explain otherwise inconsistent research – e.g., intact vs. deficient verbal memory – that are difficult to reconcile within a capacity or domain specific perspective. We conclude by discussing the relationship between our account and others', which in most cases is complementary rather than contradictory.

Publication DOI:
Divisions: College of Health & Life Sciences > School of Psychology
College of Health & Life Sciences > Clinical and Systems Neuroscience
College of Health & Life Sciences > Centre for Vision and Hearing Research
Additional Information: NOTICE: this is the author’s version of a work that was accepted for publication in Clinical psychology review. Changes resulting from the publishing process, such as peer review, editing, corrections, structural formatting, and other quality control mechanisms may not be reflected in this document. Changes may have been made to this work since it was submitted for publication. A definitive version was subsequently published in Harkin, B & Kessler, K, 'The role of working memory in compulsive checking and OCD: a systematic classification of 58 experimental findings' Clinical psychology review, vol. 31, no. 6 (2011) DOI
Uncontrolled Keywords: obsessive–compulsive disorder,executive function,episodic buffer,binding complexity,memory load
PURE Output Type: Article
Published Date: 2011-08
Authors: Harkin, Ben
Kessler, Klaus (ORCID Profile 0000-0001-7307-9539)



Version: Accepted Version

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