Avoid jumping to conclusions under uncertainty in Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Naomi A Fineberg and
Trevor W Robbins
PLOS ONE, 2020, vol. 15, issue 1, 1-17
High levels of intolerance of uncertainty (IU) could contribute to abnormal decision making in uncertain situations. Patients with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) often report high IU, indecisiveness and the need to seek greater certainty before making decisions. The Beads task is a commonly used task assessing the degree of information gathering prior to making a decision and so would be predicted to show impairments in OCD patients. Results to date have found mixed support for this, possibility due to methodological issues. Here, a group of OCD patients (n = 50) with no comorbidities was compared with age, gender, and verbal-IQ matched controls (n = 50) on the most commonly used version of the Beads task. An independent sample of healthy volunteers with high versus low OC symptoms, and high versus low IU were also assessed (n = 125). There was no evidence that patients with OCD differed from control volunteers in the degree of information gathering prior to making a decision. Medication status and age did not appear to mediate performance. Similarly, there were no association in healthy volunteers between task performance and OC or IU characteristics. Additional measures examining the degree of certainty initially showed support for greater uncertainty in patients, but this was due to deviations from task instructions in a subset of patients. We conclude that despite the large sample size and good matching between groups, the Beads task in its most widely used form is not a useful measure of IU or of information gathering in OCD. The results argue against a robust behavioural difference in OCD when compared to controls. Recommendations for future studies employing the task are discussed.
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