Decision making in obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Decision making in obsessive-compulsive disorder.

We all make decisions everyday about which route to drive to work, where to go on holiday and how to act when things don’t go to plan. However, to date the exact processes that underpin decision making have not been fully understood by the academic community. A number of competing theories have proposed over the years which have attempted to explain specific forms of decision making such as analytical and heuristic based decisions.

Much of the research to date has been conducted in healthy participants with the decision making processes that can be associated with specific medical condition remaining largely unknown. One recent piece of research has investigated decision making in persons with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). For those that do not know OCD is a chronic psychiatric disorder that is characterised by compulsive ritualistic behaviour and/or intrusive thoughts that are brought on by anxiety. Conducting ritualistic, repetitive behaviour often helps those with OCD alleviate their anxiety.

Decision making can further be split into two divisions; decision making under ambiguity and decision making under risk. Risky decisions can offer expected outcomes for competing alternatives, whilst ambiguous decisions provide equivocal rules for reward and punishment.

Recent research from South Korea has found that with respect to ambigious and risk decision making in OCD persons with OCD are impaired at making decisions under ambiguity, but not under risk. These results suggest that the decision making processes in OCD are dissociated. Other previous studies, in healthy, non-clinical people has further suggested that risk decision making uses some of the same fundamental neurological processes that are involved in feedback processing, logical reasoning and handling probabilities. It may be that risky decision making pulls together a greater number of resources and is thus spared in persons with OCD, whilst ambiguous decisions are impaired.

The current research offers an interesting insight into decision making in one clinical population (OCD). This allow for future research to build on these results with a possibility of one day helping those with OCD.

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Daniel Edgcumbe

I am studying towards my PhD in cognitive neuroscience at a leading London university

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