Organizational strategies mediate nonverbal memory impairment in obsessive-compulsive disorder

Cary R. Savage, Lee Baer, Nancy J. Keuthen, Halle D. Brown, Scott L. Rauch, Michael A. Jenike

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

355 Scopus citations


Background: Previous neuropsychological studies of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) have indicated impaired executive functioning and nonverbal memory. The extent to which impaired executive functioning impacts nonverbal memory has not been established. The current study investigated the mediating effects of organizational strategies used when copying a figure on subsequent nonverbal memory for that figure. Methods: We examined neuropsychological performance in 20 unmedicated subjects with OCD and 20 matched normal control subjects. Subjects were administered the Rey-Osterrieth Complex Figure Test (RCFT) and neuropsychological tests assessing various aspects of executive function. Results: OCD subjects differed significantly from healthy control subjects in the organizational strategies used to copy the RCFT figure, and they recalled significantly less information on both immediate and delayed testing. Multiple regression analyses indicated that group differences in immediate percent recall were significantly mediated by copy organizational strategies. Further exploratory analyses indicated that organizational problems in OCD may be related to difficulties shifting mental and/or spatial set. Conclusions: Immediate nonverbal memory problems in OCD subjects were mediated by impaired organizational strategies used during the initial copy of the RCFT figure. Thus, the primary deficit was one affecting executive function, which then had a secondary effect on immediate memory. These findings are consistent with current theories proposing frontal-striatal system dysfunction in OCD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)905-916
Number of pages12
JournalBiological Psychiatry
Issue number7
StatePublished - Apr 1 1999
Externally publishedYes


  • Executive function
  • Frontal-striatal
  • Memory
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Organizational strategies

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biological Psychiatry


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