From thought to action: How the interplay between neuroscience and phenomenology changed our understanding of obsessive-compulsive disorder

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Abstract

The understanding of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) has evolved with the knowledge of behavior, the brain, and their relationship. Modern views of OCD as a neuropsychiatric disorder originated from early lesion studies, with more recent models incorporating detailed neuropsychological findings, such as perseveration in set-shifting tasks, and findings of altered brain structure and function, namely of orbitofrontal corticostriatal circuits and their limbic connections. Interestingly, as neurobiological models of OCD evolved from cortical and cognitive to sub-cortical and behavioral, the focus of OCD phenomenology also moved from thought control and contents to new concepts rooted in animal models of action control. Most recently, the proposed analogy between habitual action control and compulsive behavior has led to the hypothesis that individuals suffering from OCD may be predisposed to rely excessively on habitual rather than on goal-directed behavioral strategies. Alternatively, compulsions have been proposed to result either from hyper-valuation of certain actions and/or their outcomes, or from excessive uncertainty in the monitoring of action performance, both leading to perseveration in prepotent actions such as washing or checking. In short, the last decades have witnessed a formidable renovation in the pathophysiology, phenomenology, and even semantics, of OCD. Nevertheless, such progress is challenged by several caveats, not least psychopathological oversimplification and overgeneralization of animal to human extrapolations. Here we present an historical overview of the understanding of OCD, highlighting converging studies and trends in neuroscience, psychiatry and neuropsychology, and how they influenced current perspectives on the nosology and phenomenology of this disorder.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1798
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Volume6
Issue numberNOV
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2015

Keywords

  • Action value
  • Goal-directed behavior
  • Habitual behavior
  • Orbitofrontal cortex
  • Uncertainty

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