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Neuropsychologia. 2014 Aug;61:197-209. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2014.06.023. Epub 2014 Jun 25.

Differential contributions of worry, anxiety, and obsessive compulsive symptoms to ERN amplitudes in response monitoring and reinforcement learning tasks.

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Department of Psychology, University of Arizona, 1503 University Ave, Tucson, AZ, USA. Electronic address:
Department of Psychology, University of Arizona, 1503 University Ave, Tucson, AZ, USA.


Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is characterized by intrusive thoughts (i.e. obsessions) and future-oriented worrisome cognitions that are associated with behavioral ritualistic compensations (i.e. compulsions) and anxious arousal. Research has found an enhanced error-related negativity (ERN) among those with OCD in choice response tasks such as the flankers task, but not in probabilistic learning tasks. To date, research has not directly investigated whether the ERN effect observed in individuals with OCD is specific to the central features of OCD (obsessions and compulsions), or is related more closely to the worry or anxiety observed in this disorder. This study compared groups with relatively pure symptom profiles on OC, worry, and anxiety symptoms (e.g. high on OC, low on worry and anxiety) relative to a "typical" OC presentation group (e.g. high OC, mild to high worry and anxiety) and a non-anxious non-worry Control group, in both flankers and probabilistic learning tasks. For the flankers task, only the Worry group had a significantly enhanced ERN relative to controls. For the probabilistic learning task, the OC typical group had significantly enhanced ERN amplitude on suboptimal choices relative to controls. Across tasks, the experimental groups had significantly enhanced activity on error/suboptimal choices relative to the OC specific group. The results highlight the role of worry across both tasks, and to a lesser extent anxiety and OC symptoms, in performance-monitoring processes.


Anxiety; ERN; Error-related negativity; Event-related potentials; OCD; Probabilistic learning task; Reinforcement learning; Worry

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