Event-based prospective memory and obsessive–compulsive disorder intrusive obsessional thoughts


Correspondence: Lynne Harris, PhD, School of Psychological Sciences, Australian College of Applied Psychology, Level 5, 11 York Street, Sydney, NSW 2000, Australia. Email: lynne.harris@acap.edu.au


Recent studies have found poorer prospective remembering among students selected for elevated obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD) checking and washing. However, as prospective memory performance also requires retrospective remembering, it is not clear from earlier work whether deficits in prospective memory in samples with OCD symptomatology are due to problems with prospective remembering, or to retrospective memory failures that result in poorer performance on prospective memory tasks. The present study examines performance on matched prospective and retrospective memory tasks among students selected for high (n = 48) and low (n = 44) scores on the Obsessive–Compulsive Inventory-Revised Obsession subscale. Significant differences between the groups were found in prospective memory (regardless of whether the word was neutral or harm/danger-related), but not retrospective memory. The findings are consistent with the prediction that obsessional thoughts that occupy working memory capacity would have a deleterious effect on a resource-demanding prospective memory task. An additional finding was that there were no group differences in self-reported complaints of problems with prospective memory.