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Background:The memory deficit hypothesis has been used to explain the maintenance of repetitive behavior in individuals with obsessive–compulsive disorder, yet the majority of studies focusing on verbal memory show mixed results. These studies primarily evaluated memory accuracy via the inclusion or omission of previously encountered material, as opposed to false recognition (i.e., the inclusion of erroneous material). We evaluated false memories and memory processes in individuals with obsessive–compulsive washing symptoms (OC), individuals matched on depression and anxiety without OC symptoms (D/A), and in nonanxious individuals (NAC).Methods:Twenty-eight OC, 28 D/A, and 29 NAC individuals read OC-threat relevant, positive, and neutral scenarios and then performed a recognition test. Erroneous recognition of words associated to encoded, but not previously viewed, scenarios were classified as false memories. To evaluate processes underlying memory, participants completed a modified remember/know task to examine whether the OC individuals differed from the other individuals in recollective clarity for false memories of OC-relevant (e.g., germs), positive (e.g., lottery), and neutral (e.g., bread) material.Results:The OC individuals used “know” more than the D/A and NAC individuals for false memories of threat. For veridical memories, the OC individuals used “know” more than the NAC, but not, D/A individuals.Conclusions:The greater reliance on “know” (i.e., feelings of familiarity) in general and false threat memories in particular in individuals with OC symptoms may add to feelings of uncertainty for threat-relevant material, which may contribute to compulsive behavior.

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