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Repeated checking causes memory distrust

Memory phenomena associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) have received increased attention in the recent literature. However, some debate remains about whether OCD is characterized by deficits in memory per se, or by poor memory confidence//.

Following from a recent study that demonstrated memory distrust results from repeated checking of a virtual computerized stove, researchers from the Department of Psychology, Concordia University, Montreal, Canada asked 50 undergraduate students to repeatedly turn on, turn off and check either a real kitchen stove (relevant checking) or a real kitchen faucet (irrelevant checking) in a standardized, ritualized manner.

The researchers thought of this as one way to build upon the extant work on repetition and metamemory, i.e., to conduct an experimental investigation of task repetition, memory and memory confidence in an environment conducive to perceived threats, such as a functioning kitchen.

It was expected that, under these conditions, repeated relevant checking should lead to reductions in memory confidence, vividness and detail, while repeated irrelevant checking should not. All participants completed a final check of the stove following 19 checking trials.

Results from the study, to be published in Behaviour Research and Therapy, demonstrate that repeated relevant checking leads to memory distrust. That is, when participants were asked to repeatedly check a stove, their memory confidence, vividness and detail significantly declined both compared to pre-test scores following only one check of the stove, and compared to a group of participants who were asked to engage in repeated irrelevant checking of a kitchen faucet.

The authors propose that experimental investigations of specific manifestations of OCD will be most fruitful in elucidating important cognitive phenomena with direct applications to both assessment procedures and treatment interventions.

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