EXECUTIVE CONTROL OF ATTENTION IN INDIVIDUALS WITH CONTAMINATION-RELATED OBSESSIVE–COMPULSIVE SYMPTOMS


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Abstract

Background:In this study, we examined executive control of attention in individuals with contamination-related obsessive–compulsive (OC) symptoms using a modified version of the Eriksen flanker task. The task indexes one's ability to resolve attentional conflict between different responses and to ignore task distracters.Methods:For this study, we modified the original flanker task using affective words to examine the effect of threat-relevant stimuli on executive control of attention. Consistent with research on information processing biases in individuals with OC symptoms, we hypothesized that the flanker interference effect (i.e., difference in response latencies between incongruent and congruent flanker trials) will be greater for threat-related flankers in individuals with OC symptoms (n=32), relative to a control group (n=36).Results:Results of our study were consistent with our hypothesis: The interference effect for threat flankers was greater in individuals with OC symptoms than in those low in symptoms. Moreover, there was no differential interference effect in the low and high symptom groups for neutral flankers.Conclusions:These findings suggest that the presence of threat-relevant distracters disrupts executive control of attention in individuals with contamination-related OC symptoms. These results are consistent with extant research on attentional biases in individuals with clinical and subclinical symptoms of OCD.

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