Deficient inhibition of return in subclinical OCD only when attention is directed to the threatening aspects of a stimulus

Ben Harkin, Klaus Kessler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background - Inhibition of return (IOR) is thought to reflect inhibition of previously attended but irrelevant stimuli. Deficient IOR would increase the likelihood of revisiting previously searched locations or objects, thus leading to unproductive perseverations.
Method - Therefore, using a novel IOR task, we investigated whether high scoring checkers attentional biases to threat would result in dysfunctional inhibitory functioning compared to low checkers. In two tasks, we compared 53 subclinical high and 49 low checkers regarding IOR effects for stimuli that were concordant with the concerns of high but not of low checkers (electrical kitchen appliances: e.g., toaster, kettle). The difference between the two tasks was the cueing procedure. In one task, an appliance was switched “ON” and “OFF” as an unpredictive cue, drawing attention to the functionality of the stimulus.
Results - In this task, IOR was specifically attenuated in high checkers. In the other task, however, the cue was more abstract in form of a yellow outline that appeared around one of two appliances. Although the appliance was either “ON” or “OFF,” this did not seem to matter and high checkers revealed a typical IOR pattern similar to low checkers.
Conclusions - We conclude that IOR mechanisms might not be generally deficient in high checkers; rather only when attention is drawn to the threatening aspects of ecologically valid stimuli, then disengagement of attention is deficient in high checkers. We make suggestions on how our task-specific findings may inform cognitive interventions that target attentional control in the treatment of checking/obsessive–compulsive disorder.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)807-815
Number of pages9
JournalDepression and Anxiety
Issue number9
Early online date3 Feb 2012
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2012


  • compulsive checking
  • inhibition of return
  • visual attention
  • ecologically valid stimuli
  • obsessive–compulsive disorder
  • OCD
  • cognition


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