Characterizing a psychiatric symptom dimension related to deficits in goaldirected control

Claire M. Gillan, Michal Kosinski, Robert Whelan, Elizabeth A. Phelps, Nathaniel D. Daw

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Prominent theories suggest that compulsive behaviors, characteristic of obsessive- compulsive disorder and addiction, are driven by shared deficits in goal-directed control, which confers vulnerability for developing rigid habits. However, recent studies have shown that deficient goal-directed control accompanies several disorders, including those without an obvious compulsive element. Reasoning that this lack of clinical specificity might reflect broader issues with psychiatric diagnostic categories, we investigated whether a dimensional approach would better delineate the clinical manifestations of goal-directed deficits. Using large-scale online assessment of psychiatric symptoms and neurocognitive performance in two independent general-population samples, we found that deficits in goal-directed control were most strongly associated with a symptom dimension comprising compulsive behavior and intrusive thought. This association was highly specific when compared to other non-compulsive aspects of psychopathology. These data showcase a powerful new methodology and highlight the potential of a dimensional, biologically- grounded approach to psychiatry research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere11305
Issue numberMARCH2016
StatePublished - Mar 1 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology


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