University of Hertfordshire


  • Matilde M Vaghi
  • Rudolf N Cardinal
  • Annemieke M Apergis-Schoute
  • Naomi A Fineberg
  • Akeem Sule
  • Trevor W Robbins
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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)200-209
Number of pages10
JournalBiological psychiatry. Cognitive neuroscience and neuroimaging
Early online date9 Oct 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2019


BACKGROUND: In obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), actions persist despite being inappropriate to the situation and without relationship to the overall goal. Dysfunctional beliefs have traditionally been postulated to underlie this condition. More recently, OCD has been characterized in terms of an imbalance between the goal-directed and the habit systems. To test these competing hypotheses, we used a novel experimental task designed to test subjective action-outcome knowledge of the effectiveness of actions (i.e., instrumental contingency), together with the balance between goal-directed and habitual responding.METHODS: Twenty-seven patients with OCD and 27 healthy control subjects were tested on a novel task involving the degradation of an action-outcome contingency. Sensitivity to instrumental contingency and the extent to which explicitly reported action-outcome knowledge guided behavior were probed by measuring response rate and subjectively reported judgments.RESULTS: Patients with OCD responded more than healthy control subjects in situations in which an action was less causally related to obtaining an outcome. However, patients showed intact explicit action-outcome knowledge, as assessed by self-report. In patients, the relationship between causality judgment and responding was altered; therefore, their actions were dissociated from explicit action-outcome knowledge.CONCLUSIONS: These findings indicate reduced sensitivity to instrumental contingency in OCD, reinforcing the notion of a deficient goal-directed system in this disorder. By showing a dissociation between subjectively reported action-outcome knowledge and behavior, the data provide experimental evidence for the ego-dystonic nature of OCD.


© 2018 Published by Elsevier Inc on behalf of Society of Biological Psychiatry. This is an open access article under the CC BY license (

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