Comparative neuropsychology of adult obsessive-compulsive disorder and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder: implications for a novel executive overload model of OCD

J Neuropsychol. 2012 Sep;6(2):161-91. doi: 10.1111/j.1748-6653.2011.02021.x. Epub 2011 Dec 2.


Research implicates frontostriatal pathophysiology in both attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Nevertheless, ADHD is characterized with frontostriatal hypoactivity and OCD with hyperactivity. Furthermore, both disorders seem to lie on opposite ends of a clinical impulsive-compulsive continuum. While never having directly been compared, and despite these differences, OCD and ADHD appear to share similar neuropsychological impairments especially in executive functions. This study aimed at comparing adults with OCD and adults with ADHD on neuropsychological measures and behavioural impulsivity and OC measures. Thirty OCD, 30 ADHD, and 30 matched healthy control (HC) participants were administered a comprehensive neuropsychological battery and completed several questionnaires. The groups were compared on all neuropsychological and clinical measures and correlations between neuropsychological and clinical symptoms were computed. The ADHD and OCD groups performed more poorly than HC on all neuropsychological domains and most domain subtests. The ADHD group reported significantly higher impulsivity than the OCD group. OCD patients did not differ from HC on behavioural impulsivity. A unique dissociation was found between impulsivity and response inhibition where both clinical groups showed similar response inhibition deficit, but differed significantly on impulsivity. Moreover, a negative association between OC symptoms and response inhibition and a bias in self-perception of impulsivity was found only in the OCD group. We propose an executive overload model of OCD that views neuropsychological impairments in OCD as an epiphenomenon, according to which continuous attempts to control automatic processes are associated with obsessive thoughts overflow that causes an overload on the executive system.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / complications*
  • Cognition Disorders / diagnosis
  • Cognition Disorders / etiology*
  • Executive Function / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder / complications*
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Young Adult