Characterizing a Psychiatric Symptom Dimension Related to Deficits in Goal-Directed Control

Characterizing a Psychiatric Symptom Dimension Related to Deficits in Goal-Directed Control

By
Michal Kosinski, Claire M. Gillan, Robert Whelan, Elizabeth A. Phelps, Nathaniel D. Daw
eLIFE Sciences. March
1, 2016, Vol. 5, Pages 1-24

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.