Reward-related attentional capture and cognitive inflexibility interact to determine greater severity of compulsivity-related problems

J Behav Ther Exp Psychiatry. 2020 Dec:69:101580. doi: 10.1016/j.jbtep.2020.101580. Epub 2020 May 1.


Background and objectives: Neurocognitive processes are key drivers of addictive and compulsive disorders. The current study examined whether reward-related attentional capture and cognitive inflexibility are associated with impulsive and/or compulsive personality traits, and whether these cognitive characteristics interact to predict greater compulsivity-related problems across obsessive-compulsive and drinking behaviors.

Methods: One-hundred and seventy-three participants (mean age = 34.5 years, S.D = 8.4, 42% female) completed an online visual search task to measure reward-related attentional capture and its persistence following reversal of stimulus-reward contingencies. Participants also completed questionnaires to assess trait impulsivity, compulsivity, alcohol use, and obsessive-compulsive behaviors.

Results: Greater reward-related attentional capture was associated with trait compulsivity, over and above all impulsivity dimensions, while greater cognitive inflexibility was associated with higher negative urgency (distress-elicited impulsivity). Reward-related attentional capture and cognitive inflexibility interacted to predict greater compulsivity-related problems among participants who reported obsessive-compulsive behaviors in the past month (n = 57) as well as current drinkers (n = 88). Follow-up analyses showed that, for OCD behaviors, this interaction was driven by an association between higher reward-related attentional capture and more problematic behaviors among cognitively inflexible participants only. For drinking, the same pattern was seen, albeit at trend level.

Limitations: This study includes a non-clinical, online sample and is cross-sectional, thus its findings need to be interpreted with these limitations in mind.

Conclusions: Reward-related attentional capture and cognitive flexibility are related to trait compulsivity and impulsivity (negative urgency) respectively, and interact to determine more problematic behaviors.

Keywords: Cognitive inflexibility; Compulsivity; Impulsivity; Reward learning.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention*
  • Attentional Bias
  • Cognition*
  • Compulsive Behavior*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder / psychology*
  • Reward*