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The prospective memory deficit theory of compulsive checking Cuttler, Carrie

Abstract

Checking compulsions are the most common manifestation of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), yet the mechanisms which contribute to them are not well understood. According to one prominent theory — the memory deficit theory — individuals’ compulsions to check are fueled by a deficit in memory which makes it difficult for them to remember performing a previous action (e.g., locking a door). The main goal of this dissertation is to examine the link between memory deficits and checking compulsions. This examination in carried out in the context of two domains of memory: retrospective memory and prospective memory. A review of the literature on memory in OCD shows that previous research on the memory deficit theory has focused almost exclusively on the domain of retrospective memory, the ability to remember previously learned information and events. More importantly, the review demonstrates that deficits in this domain of memory are not unique to checkers and therefore do not hold the power to explain the compulsion to check. The review further examines the memory deficit theory in the domain of prospective memory, the ability to remember to carry out actions (e.g., lock a door). It reviews two of the studies presented in the dissertation which demonstrate deficits in sub-clinical checkers’ prospective memory and it provides some supplementary analyses which show that deficits in prospective memory are unique to checkers and therefore may hold the power to explain the compulsion to check. Three empirical studies demonstrating that sub-clinical checking compulsions are associated with subjective and objective deficits in prospective memory comprise the body of the dissertation. Two of the studies show that the link between checking compulsions and objective deficits in prospective memory is direct and independent from elevations in depression, anxiety and distractibility associated with checking compulsions. The results are used as initial support for the theory that checking compulsions may develop in part as a compensatory reaction to deficits in prospective memory. If individuals frequently forget to perform tasks they may develop intrusive doubts about whether they performed important tasks and when the perceived consequences of a failure are serious these doubts may lead to checking.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International

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