Link Between Learning and Action Broken With OCD


Scientists in the UK have used a mathematical model to understand the underlying cause of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

Our “study shows that the actions of people with OCD often don't take into account what they've already learned," said senior author Benedetto De Martino, investigator at the Brain Decision Modeling Laboratory at University College London.

The researchers focused on the connection between confidence and action. For instance, when we are certain it’s going to rain we decide to carry an umbrella. When someone has OCD, the link between confidence and action is broken so even if they are certain the doors are locked they will continue to check them.

The study involved 24 people with OCD and 25 non-OCD individuals who played a video game where coin-like objects were caught in a bucket. After participants played the game several times, the non-OCD players began setting the buckets where they had learned the coins would fall. However, the players with OCD did not let their learning guide them, and constantly moved the buckets around.

By creating a mathematical model to understand brain dysfunction, this research belongs to a new field of study called computational psychiatry. “[The] brain is a computational device that has no mechanical parts, so we need to develop mathematical tools to understand what happens when something goes wrong with a brain computation and generates a disease,” says De Martino.

“Just as studying people with lesions in the hippocampus has historically taught us about the inner workings of memory, studying people with OCD can give us new insights into how beliefs and actions are linked.”

The researchers note that once mathematical models are developed, they may lead to new diagnostic approaches for early detection, and treatment of psychiatric disorders.

Source: Science Daily
Photo credit: Munetaka Onodera

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