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J Behav Ther Exp Psychiatry. 2014 Mar;45(1):152-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jbtep.2013.10.001. Epub 2013 Oct 11.

Moral rigidity in obsessive-compulsive disorder: do abnormalities in inhibitory control, cognitive flexibility and disgust play a role?

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School of Psychology, University of New South Wales, Kensington, NSW 2031, Australia. Electronic address:



Abnormalities in cognitive control and disgust responding are well-documented in obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and also interfere with flexible, outcome-driven utilitarian moral reasoning. The current study examined whether individuals with OCD differ from healthy and anxious individuals in their use of utilitarian moral reasoning, and whether abnormalities in inhibitory control, cognitive flexibility and disgust contribute to moral rigidity.


Individuals with OCD (n = 23), non-OCD anxiety (n = 21) and healthy participants (n = 24) gave forced-choice responses to three types of moral dilemmas: benign, impersonal, personal. Scores on measures of cognitive flexibility, inhibitory control and trait disgust were also examined.


Individuals with OCD gave fewer utilitarian responses to impersonal moral dilemmas compared to healthy, but not anxious, individuals. Poorer cognitive flexibility was associated with fewer utilitarian responses to impersonal dilemmas in the OCD group. Furthermore, greater trait disgust was associated with increased utilitarian responding to personal dilemmas in the OCD group, but decreased utilitarian responding to impersonal dilemmas in the anxious group.


Although we did not find an association between inhibitory control and moral reasoning, smaller associations may be evident in a larger sample.


These data indicate that individuals with OCD use more rigid moral reasoning in response to impersonal moral dilemmas compared to healthy individuals, and that this may be associated with reduced cognitive flexibility. Furthermore, these data suggest that trait disgust may exert opposing effects on moral reasoning in individuals with OCD compared to those with other forms of anxiety.


Cognitive processes; Disgust; Moral; Obsessive-compulsive disorder; Reasoning

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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