Cognitive Inflexibility in OCD and Related Disorders

Samuel R. Chamberlain, Jeremy E. Solly, Roxanne W. Hook, Matilde M. Vaghi, Trevor W. Robbins

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

33 Citations (Scopus)


Cognitive inflexibility is suggested by the hallmark symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), namely the occurrence of repetitive thoughts and/or behaviours that persist despite being functionally impairing and egodystonic to the individual. As well as being implied by the top-level symptoms, cognitive inflexibility in OCD, and some related conditions, has also been objectively quantified in case–control studies using computerised cognitive tasks. This chapter begins by considering the objective measurement of different aspects of cognitive flexibility using neuropsychological paradigms, with a focus on neural and neurochemical substrates. It moves on to conduct a systematic review and meta-analysis of findings from a widely deployed flexibility task: the Intra-Dimensional/Extra-Dimensional Set-Shift Task (IDED). By pooling data from 11 studies (335 OCD patients and 311 controls), we show that Extra-Dimensional (ED) shift deficits are a robust and reproducible finding (effect size medium–large) in OCD across the literature, and that this deficit is not attributable to group differences in age or IQ. The OCD ED deficit is then discussed in terms of dysfunction of fronto-striatal pathways (as exemplified, for example, by functional connectivity data), and the putative role of different neurotransmitters. We consider evidence that impaired ED shifting constitutes a candidate vulnerability marker (or ‘endophenotype’) for OCD. The available literature is then surveyed as to ED findings in other obsessive-compulsive (OC) related disorders (e.g. hoarding, body-dysmorphic disorder, and trichotillomania), as well as in non-OC disorders (schizophrenia and anxiety symptoms in general). Lastly, we consider more recent, emerging developments in the quantification of compulsivity using cognitive tasks and questionnaires, as well as key directions for future research, including the need to refine compulsivity and its composite cognitive processes.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publication The Neurobiology and Treatment of OCD: Accelerating Progress
EditorsNaomi A. Fineberg, Trevor W. Robbins
Number of pages21
ISBN (Electronic)978-3-030-75393-1
ISBN (Print)978-3-030-75395-5, 978-3-030-75392-4
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Publication series

NameCurrent Topics in Behavioral Neurosciences
ISSN (Print)1866-3370
ISSN (Electronic)1866-3389


  • Cognitive flexibility
  • Compulsivity
  • Endophenotype
  • Intra-dimensional/extra-dimensional set-shift task
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive related disorders
  • OCD
  • Set-shifting

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