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Impaired Executive Functioning in Subclinical Compulsive Checking with Ecologically Valid Stimuli in a Working Memory Task

By Ben Harkin, Hannah Rutherford and Klaus Kessler


We previously showed that working memory (WM) performance of subclinical checkers can be affected if they are presented with irrelevant but misleading information during the retention period (Harkin and Kessler, 2009, 2011). The present study differed from our previous research in the three crucial aspects. Firstly, we employed ecologically valid stimuli in form of electrical kitchen appliances on a kitchen countertop in order to address previous criticism of our research with letters in locations as these may not have tapped into the primary concerns of checkers. Secondly, we tested whether these ecological stimuli would allow us to employ a simpler (un-blocked) design while obtaining similarly robust results. Thirdly, in Experiment 2 we improved the measure of confidence as a metacognitive variable by using a quantitative scale (0–100), which indeed revealed more robust effects that were quantitatively related to accuracy of performance. The task in the present study was to memorize four appliances, including their states (on/off), and their locations on the kitchen countertop. Memory accuracy was tested for the states of appliances in Experiment 1, and for their locations in Experiment 2. Intermediate probes were identical in both experiments and were administered during retention on 66.7% of the trials with 50% resolvable and 50% irresolvable/misleading probes. Experiment 1 revealed the efficacy of the employed stimuli by revealing a general impairment of high- compared to low checkers, which confirmed the ecological validity of our stimuli. In Experiment 2 we observed the expected, more differentiated pattern: High checkers were not generally affected in their WM performance (i.e., no general capacity issue); instead they showed a particular impairment in the misleading distractor-probe condition. Also, high checkers’ confidence ratings were indicative of a general impairment in metacognitive functioning. We discuss how specific executive dysfunction and general metacognitive impairment may affect memory traces in the short- and in the long-term

Topics: Psychology
Publisher: Frontiers Research Foundation
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Provided by: PubMed Central

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