Effects of gender and executive function on visuospatial working memory in adult obsessive–compulsive disorder

Riccardo Maria Martoni, Giulia Salgari, Elisa Galimberti, Maria Cristina Cavallini, Joseph O’Neill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Visuospatial working memory (VSWM) is the ability of the brain to transiently store and manipulate visual information. VSWM deficiencies have been reported in obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD), but not consistently, perhaps due to variability in task design and clinical patient factors. To explore this variability, this study assessed effects of the design factors task difficulty and executive organizational strategy and of the clinical factors gender, OCD symptom dimension, and duration of illness on VSWM in OCD. The CANTAB spatial working memory, spatial recognition memory, delayed matching to sample, and stop signal tasks were administered to 42 adult OCD patients and 42 age- and sex-matched healthy controls. Aims were to detect a possible VSWM deficit in the OCD sample, to evaluate influences of the above task and patient factors, to determine the specificity of the deficit to the visuospatial subdomain, and to examine effects of sustained attention as potential neurocognitive confound. We confirmed previous findings of a VSWM deficit in OCD that was more severe for greater memory load (task difficulty) and that was affected by task strategy (executive function). We failed to demonstrate significant deficits in neighboring or confounding neurocognitive subdomains (visual object recognition or visual object short-term memory, sustained attention). Notably, the VSWM deficit was only significant for female patients, adding to evidence for sexual dimorphism in OCD. Again as in prior work, more severe OCD symptoms in the symmetry dimension (but no other dimension) significantly negatively impacted VSWM. Duration of illness had no significant effect on VSWM. VSWM deficits in OCD appear more severe with higher task load and may be mediated through poor task strategy. Such deficits may present mainly in female patients and in (male and female) patients with symmetry symptoms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)707-718
Number of pages12
JournalEuropean Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - May 14 2015


  • Duration of illness
  • Gender differences
  • Obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Symptom dimensions
  • Visuospatial working memory (VSWM)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Pharmacology (medical)


Dive into the research topics of 'Effects of gender and executive function on visuospatial working memory in adult obsessive–compulsive disorder'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this