Cognitive training in patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)


OCD is a condition that is known to be associated with problematic functioning of certain regions of the brain. One such problem relates to a concept called “working memory”.

Working memory is linked to a person’s control over his/her thoughts and behaviour. There is research that suggests that greater activation of specific parts of the brain is associated with improved working memory, and thus improved self-control.

Read: Upgrade your memory

This study involves a simple “brain game” (i.e. a “cognitive training” with the so-called n-back working memory task) that trains this specific part of the brain, to test whether this method can improve self-control, and reduce illness severity, in people with OCD.

What will your responsibilities be?

In order to participate, you need to have a Smartphone on which the study application will be loaded. If you do not, cognitive training would have to be provided by the UCT Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health on a loan phone which you will be responsible for.

You will undergo a comprehensive screening interview with a clinical psychologist to see whether you qualify for participation. The interview also includes the assessment of OCD symptoms and severity.

Eligibility criteria:

- Should be between 18 and 65 years old

- Right-handed

- Diagnosed with or suspect they have OCD

- Preferably not be on any chronic psychiatric medication at the time of participation

If you do qualify for participation, you will be asked to do the following things:

1. Attend a screening procedure at the Medical School of Stellenbosch University (Tygerberg).

2. Attend a neuropsychological assessment session at Tygerberg Campus of SU.

3. Attend one session at the Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health at the University of Cape Town where you will:

3.1 Have the study procedures explained to you in detail,

3.2 Be given a brain scan that will take about 1 ½ hours, and

3.3 Be asked to answer questionnaires on impulsivity, anxiety, depression and self-regulation.

4. Engage in cognitive training (i.e. the n-back working memory task) daily for 8 weeks (i.e. 20 sessions, Monday to Friday) on the Smartphone App at home.

5. The task will also be fully explained to you by instructions provided on the App. You are required to concentrate and respond at the appropriate moment as explained by the instructions.

6. You will be required to email your data file to the researcher daily by activating an icon which will be available on the App.

7. Another brain scan that will take about 1 ½ hours post-training, and

8. Attend a post-training interview to assess change in your OCD profile, brain scan and change in neuropsychological functioning.

Will you benefit from taking part in this research?

Based on results from previous research in other psychiatric disorders, we know that it is highly likely that doing brain training in this way will alter the way your brain functions, in a healthy way, so that you can use more self-control to decrease obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviour. If this can be proven, your participation will help to increase the number of possibly effective treatment options for patients with OCD.

Assess your risk

Will you be paid to take part in this study and are there any costs involved?

We will provide a Pick n Pay food voucher to the value of R150 at the end of the 8 week cognitive training period.

If you want more information or want to participate, please contact: Prof Christine Lochner (021)938 9179, e-mail:


Mr Lian Taljaard (021) 938 9654, e-mail:


Ms Lara van Nunen (021) 404 5479 , email:

Other studies:

Could you take part in this project on gambling and 'Tik' use disorder?

Do you suffer from Hair-Pulling Disorder?

Image Obsessive compulsive disorder from iStock


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