Obsessive-Compulsive Checkers' Prospective Memory

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is characterized by persistent, unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and/or repetitive behaviors (compulsions). One of the most common manifestations of OCD is checking compulsions, where an individual is obsessed with the idea that they failed to do something, or failed to do it correctly (e.g., locked the door or turned off the stove). The OCD sufferer will feel compelled to repeatedly check that the task was completed in order to be satisfied that it was in fact completed, and/or completed properly. These obsessions and compulsive behaviours can be so pervasive and time-consuming that people with OCD have difficulty functioning at work, performing routine activities and relating to others. Many types of compulsive checking behaviours appear to be linked to prospective memory, defined as the ability to formulate intentions, plans and promises, to retain them, to recollect and carry them out appropriately. Carrie Cuttler’s preliminary research suggests that checking compulsions may develop to compensate for an impaired prospective memory—caused by either a real deficit, or by an individual’s own perception and beliefs about their “bad memory”. Now, she is conducting studies to compare prospective memory between non-checkers and checkers. By exploring the relationship between prospective memory and compulsions, Carrie hopes her research will point to ways to help OCD patients minimize their behaviours and anxieties, and improve their quality of life.