Skip to main content Accessibility help

Checking Behaviours, Prospective Memory and Executive Functions

  • Lorna Elise Palmer (a1), Kevin Durkin (a1) and Sinéad M. Rhodes (a1)


Explanations implicating memory in the causes and severity of checking symptoms have focused primarily on retrospective memory, and relatively little attention has been paid to prospective memory. Limited research has examined the relationship between prospective memory and executive functions. We assessed whether impairments in prospective memory and executive function predict checking symptoms in a sample of 106 adults. Checking symptoms were assessed using the Padua Inventory Washington State University Revision (PI-WSUR). All participants completed the prospective memory questionnaire (PMQ) and four computerised executive function tasks from the CANTAB, measuring inhibition, planning, attention set-shifting and working memory. Prospective memory and inhibition predicted checking symptom severity. Importantly, there were no correlations between internally cued prospective memory and inhibition or between prospective memory aiding strategies and inhibition. These variables appear to have an independent role in checking. The current findings highlight prospective memory and inhibition as key contributors to the checking symptom profile and provide the first evidence that these cognitive processes may independently contribute to checking symptoms. These findings have implications for a model in which memory performance is thought to be secondary to impairments in executive functions.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      Checking Behaviours, Prospective Memory and Executive Functions
      Available formats

      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      Checking Behaviours, Prospective Memory and Executive Functions
      Available formats

      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      Checking Behaviours, Prospective Memory and Executive Functions
      Available formats


This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Sinéad M. Rhodes, School of Psychological Sciences and Health, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, G1 1QE, UK. E-mail:


Hide All
Abramovitch, A., Dar, R., Schweiger, A., & Hermesh, H. (2011). Neuropsychological impairments and their association with obsessive-compulsive symptom severity in obsessive-compulsive disorder. Archives of Clinical Neuropsychology, 26, 364376. doi:10.1093/arclin/acr022
Aycicegi, A., Dinn, W.M., Harris, C.L., & Erkmen, H. (2003). Neuropsychological function in obsessive-compulsive disorder: Effects of comorbid conditions on task performance. European Psychiatry, 18, 241248. doi:
Bannon, S., Gonsalvez, C.J., Croft, R.J., & Boyce, P.M. (2002). Response inhibition deficits in obsessive-compulsive disorder. Psychiatry Research, 110, 165174. doi:10.1016/s0165-1781(02)00104-x
Bannon, S., Gonsalvez, C.J., Croft, R.J., & Boyce, P.M. (2006). Executive functions in obsessive-compulsive disorder: State or trait deficits? Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 40, 10311038. doi:10.1080/j.1440-1614.2006.01928.x
Bohne, A., Keuthen, N.J., Tuschen-Caffier, B., & Wilhelm, S. (2005). Cognitive inhibition in trichotillomania and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 43, 923942. doi:10.1016/j.brat.2004.06.014
Burgess, P.W., Veitch, E., de Lacy Costello, A., & Shallice, T. (2000). The cognitive and neuroanatomical correlates of multitasking. Neuropsychologia, 38, 848863.
Burns, G.L., Keortge, S.G., Formea, G.M., & Sternberger, L.G. (1996). Revision of the padua inventory of obsessive compulsive disorder symptoms: Distinctions between worry, obsessions, and compulsions. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 34, 163173. doi:10.1016/0005-7967(95)00035-6
Cavedini, P., Cisima, M., Riboldi, G., D’Annucci, A., & Bellodi, L. (2001). A neuropsychological study of dissociation in cortical and subcortical functioning in obsessive-compulsive disorder by tower of hanoi task. Brain and Cognition, 46, 357363. doi:10.1006/brcg.2001.1293
Cavedini, P., Zorzi, C., Piccinni, M., Cavallini, M.C., & Bellodi, L. (2010). Executive dysfunctions in obsessive-compulsive patients and unaffected relatives: Searching for a new intermediate phenotype. Biological Psychiatry, 67, 11781184. doi:10.1016/j.biopsych.2010.02.012
Chamberlain, S.R., Blackwell, A.D., Fineberg, N.A., Robbins, T.W., & Sahakian, J. (2005). The neuropsychology of obsessive compulsive disorder: The importance of failures in cognitive and behavioural inhibition as candidate endophenotypic markers. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 29, 399419. doi:10.1016/j.neubiorev.2004.11.006
Chamberlain, S.R., Fineberg, N.A., Blackwell, A.D., Clark, L., Robbins, T.W., & Sahakian, B.J. (2007). A neuropsychological comparison of obsessive-compulsive disorder and trichotillomania. Neuropsychologia, 45, 654662. doi:10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2006.07.016
Chamberlain, S.R., Fineberg, N.A., Blackwell, A.D., Robbins, T.W., & Sahakian, B.J. (2006). Motor inhibition and cognitive flexibility in obsessive-compulsive disorder and trichotillomania. American Journal of Psychiatry, 163, 12821284. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.163.7.1282
Chamberlain, S.R., Fineberg, N.A., Menzies, L.A., Blackwell, A.D., Bullmore, E.T., Robbins, T.W., & Sahakian, B.J. (2007). Impaired cognitive flexibility and motor inhibition in unaffected first-degree relatives of patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder. American Journal of Psychiatry, 164, 335338. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.164.2.335
Cuttler, C., & Graf, P. (2007). Sub-clinical compulsive checkers’ prospective memory is impaired. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 21, 338352. doi:10.1016/j.janxdis.2006.06.001
Cuttler, C., & Graf, P. (2008). Sub-clinical checking compulsions are related to impaired prospective memory independently of depression, anxiety and distractibility. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 22, 642654. doi:10.1016/j.janxdis.2007.06.003
Cuttler, C., & Graf, P. (2009). Checking-in on the memory deficit and meta-memory deficit theories of compulsive checking. Clinical Psychology Review, 29, 393409. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2009.04.003
Diamond, A. (2013). Executive functions. Annual Review of Psychology, 64, 135168. doi:10.1146/annurev-psych-113011-143750
Dittrich, W., Johansen, T., Fineberg, N., & Landro, N.I. (2011). Cognitive performance and specific deficits in OCD symptom dimensions: II. Spatial memory and impaired recognition of visuospatial object locations. German Journal of Psychiatry, 14, 112.
Elliott, M.A., & Ainsworth, K. (2012). Predicting university undergraduates’ binge-drinking behavior: A comparative test of the one- and two-component theories of planned behavior. Addictive Behaviors, 37, 92101. doi:10.1016/j.addbeh.2011.09.005
Field, A. (2009). Discovering statistics using SPSS (3rd ed.). London: Sage Publications.
Fuermaier, A. B. M., Tucha, L., Koerts, J., Aschenbrenner, S., Westermann, C., Weisbrod, M., . . . Tucha, O. (2013). Complex prospective memory in adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. PLoS ONE, 8, e58338. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0058338
Goodwin, A.H., & Sher, K.J. (1992). Deficits in set-shifting ability in nonclinical compulsive checkers. Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment, 14, 8192. doi:10.1007/bf00960093
Hannon, R., Adams, P., Harrington, S., FriesDias, C., & Gipson, M.T. (1995). Effects of brain injury and age on prospective memory self-rating and performance. Rehabilitation Psychology, 40, 289298. doi:10.1037/0090-5550.40.4.289
Harkin, B., & Kessler, K. (2009). How checking breeds doubt: Reduced performance in a simple working memory task. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 47, 504512. doi:10.1016/j.brat.2009.03.002
Harkin, B., & Kessler, K. (2011). How checking as a cognitive style influences working memory performance. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 25, 219228. doi:10.1002/acp.1666
Harris, L.M., Vaccaro, L., Jones, M.K., & Boots, G.M. (2010). Evidence of impaired event-based prospective memory in clinical obsessive-compulsive checking. Behaviour Change, 27, 8492.
Henderson, J.G., & Pollard, C.A. (1988). Three types of obsessive compulsive disorder in a community sample. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 44, 747752. doi:10.1002/1097-4679(198809)44:5<747::AID-JCLP2270440513>3.0.CO;2–2
Henry, J.D., Rendell, P.G., Kliegel, M., & Altgassen, M. (2007). Prospective memory in schizophrenia: Primary or secondary impairment? Schizophrenia Research, 95, 179185. doi:
Hermann, D., Sheets, V., Gruneberg, M., & Torres, R. (2005). Are self-reports of memory failure accurate? Applied Cognitive Psychology, 19, 821841. doi:10.1002/acp.1125
Jaafari, N., Frasca, M., Rigalleau, F., Rachid, F., Gil, R., Olié, J.P., . . . Vibert, N. (2013). Forgetting what you have checked: A link between working memory impairment and checking behaviors in obsessive-compulsive disorder. European Psychiatry, 28, 8793. doi:
Kliegel, M., Eschen, A., & Thöne-Otto, A.I.T. (2004). Planning and realization of complex intentions in traumatic brain injury and normal aging. Brain and Cognition, 56, 4354. doi:
Kuelz, A.K., Hohagen, F., & Voderholzer, U. (2004). Neuropsychological performance in obsessive-compulsive disorder: A critical review. Biological Psychology, 65, 185236. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsycho.2003.07.007
Marsh, R.L., & Hicks, J.L. (1998). Event-based prospective memory and executive control of working memory. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition, 24, 336349.
Martin, M., Kliegel, M., & McDaniel, M.A. (2003). The involvement of executive functions in prospective memory performance of adults. International Journal of Psychology, 38, 195206. doi:10.1080/00207590244000205
McDaniel, M.A., & Einstein, G. O. (2000). Strategic and automatic processes in prospective memory retrieval: A multiprocess framework. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 14, S127S144. doi:10.1002/acp.775
McDaniel, M.A., Glisky, E.L., Rubin, S.R., Guynn, M.J., & Routhieaux, B.C. (1999). Prospective memory: A neuropsychological study. Neuropsychology, 13, 103110.
McNerney, M.W., & West, R. (2007). An imperfect relationship between prospective memory and the prospective interference effect. Memory and Cognition, 35, 275282.
Miyake, A., Friedman, N.P., Emerson, M.J., Witzki, A.H., Howerter, A., & Wager, T.D. (2000). The unity and diversity of executive functions and their contributions to complex ‘frontal lobe’ tasks: A latent variable analysis. Cognitive Psychology, 41, 49100. doi:10.1006/cogp.1999.0734
Morein-Zamir, S., Craig, K.J., Ersche, K.D., Abbott, S., Muller, U., Fineberg, N.A., . . . Robbins, T.W. (2010). Impaired visuospatial associative memory and attention in obsessive compulsive disorder but no evidence for differential dopaminergic modulation. Psychopharmacology, 212, 357367. doi:10.1007/s00213-010-1963-z
Moritz, S., Birkner, C., Kloss, M., Jahn, H., Hand, I., Haasen, C., & Krausz, M. (2002). Executive functioning in obsessive-compulsive disorder, unipolar depression, and schizophrenia. Archives of Clinical Neuropsychology, 17, 477483.
Morris, R.G., Evendon, J.I., Sahakian, B.J., & Robbins, T.W. (1987). Computer-aided assessment of dementia: Comparative studies of neuropsychological deficits in alzheimer-type dementia and Parkinson's disease. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Müller, J., & Roberts, J.E. (2005). Memory and attention in obsessive-compulsive disorder: A review. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 19, 128. doi:10.1016/j.janxdis.2003.12.001
Nakao, T., Nakagawa, A., Nakatani, E., Nabeyama, M., Sanematsu, H., Yoshiura, T., . . . Kanba, S. (2009). Working memory dysfunction in obsessive-compulsive disorder: A neuropsychological and functional MRI study. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 43, 784791. doi:10.1016/j.jpsychires.2008.10.013
Nedeljkovic, M., Kyrios, M., Moulding, R., Doron, G., Wainwright, K., Pantelis, C., . . . Maruff, P. (2009). Differences in neuropsychological performance between subtypes of obsessive-compulsive disorder. The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 43, 216226. doi:10.1080/00048670802653273
Nielen, M.M.A., & Den Boer, J.A. (2003). Neuropsychological performance of OCD patients before and after treatment with fluoxetine: Evidence for persistent cognitive deficits. Psychological Medicine, 33, 917925. doi:10.1017/s0033291703007682
Okasha, A., Rafaat, M., Mahallawy, N., El Nahas, G., El Dawla, A.S., Sayed, M., & El Kholi, S. (2000). Cognitive dysfunction in obsessive-compulsive disorder. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 101, 281285.
Olley, A., Malhi, G., & Sachdev, P. (2007). Memory and executive functioning in obsessive-compulsive disorder: A selective review. Journal of Affective Disorders, 104, 1523. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2007.02.023
Omori, I.M., Murata, Y., Yamanishi, T., Nakaaki, S., Akechi, T., Mikuni, M., & Furukawa, T.A. (2007). The differential impact of executive attention dysfunction on episodic memory in obsessive-compulsive disorder patients with checking symptoms vs. those with washing symptoms. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 41, 776784. doi:10.1016/j.jpsychires.2006.05.005
Page, L.A., Rubia, K., Deeley, Q., Daly, E., Toal, F., Mataix-Cols, D., . . . Murphy, D.G.M. (2009). A functional magnetic resonance imaging study of inhibitory control in obsessive-compulsive disorder. Psychiatry Research-Neuroimaging, 174, 202209. doi:10.1016/j.pscychresns.2009.05.002
Penades, R., Catalan, R., Rubia, K., Andres, S., Salamero, M., & Gasto, C. (2007). Impaired response inhibition in obsessive compulsive disorder. European Psychiatry, 22, 404410. doi:10.1016/j.eurpsy.2006.05.001
Preacher, K.J, & Hayes, A.F. (2008). Asymptotic and resampling strategies for assessing and comparing indirect effects in multiple mediator models. Behavior Research Methods, 40, 879891. doi:10.3758/BRM.40.3.879
Purcell, R., Maruff, P., Kyrios, M., & Pantelis, C. (1998a). Cognitive deficits in obsessive-compulsive disorder on tests of frontal-striatal function. Biological Psychiatry, 43, 348357. doi:10.1016/s0006–3223(97)00201–1
Purcell, R., Maruff, P., Kyrios, M., & Pantelis, C. (1998b). Neuropsychological deficits in obsessive-compulsive disorder: A comparison with unipolar depression, panic disorder, and normal controls. Archives of General Psychiatry, 55, 415423. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.55.5.415
Salthouse, T.A., Berish, D.E., & Siedlecki, K.L. (2004). Construct validity and age sensitivity of prospective memory. Memory and Cognition, 32, 11331148.
Sanavio, E. (1988). Obsessions and compulsions: The Padua inventory. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 26, 169177. doi:10.1016/0005-7967(88)90116-7
Schnitzspahn, K.M., Stahl, C., Zeintl, M., Kaller, C.P., & Kliegel, M. (2013). The role of shifting, updating, and inhibition in prospective memory performance in young and older adults. Developmental Psychology, 49, 15441553. doi:10.1037/a0030579
Shallice, T. (1982). Specific impairments of planning. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Sociey of London, Series B, Biological Sciences, 298, 199209.
Shimamura, A.P, Janowsky, J.S., & Squire, L.R. (1991). What is the role of frontal lobe damage in memory disorders? In Levin, H.S., Eisenberg, H.S. & Benton, A., L (Eds.), Frontal lobe function and dysfunction (pp. 173195). New York: Oxford University Press.
Smith, R.E. (2003). The cost of remembering to remember in event-based prospective memory: Investigating the capacity demands of delayed intention performance. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition, 29, 347361.
Smith, R.E., & Bayen, U.J. (2004). A multinomial model of event-based prospective memory. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition, 30, 756777. doi:10.1037/0278-7393.30.4.756
Smith, R.E., & Bayen, U.J. (2005). The effects of working memory resource availability on prospective memory: A formal modeling approach. Experimental Psychology, 52, 243256. doi:10.1027/1618-3169.52.4.243
Sottocorno, S., Martoni, R., Galimberti, E., Fadda, E., & Bellodi, L. (2011). P01–150 — Response inhibition in the obsessive-compulsive spectrum. Paper presented at the European Congress of Psychiatry. Retreived from
Spinella, M. (2005). Mood in relation to subclinical obsessive-compulsive symptoms. International Journal of Neuroscience, 115, 433443. doi:10.1080/00207450590522838
Stein, D.J. (2002). Obsessive-compulsive disorder. The Lancet, 306, 397405.
Tabachnick, B.G., & Fidell, L.S. (2007). Using multivariate statistics (5th ed.). Boston: Pearson International Editing.
Taner, Y.I., Bakar, E.E., & Oner, O. (2011). Impaired executive functions in paediatric obsessive-compulsive disorder patients. Acta Neuropsychiatrica, 23, 272281. doi:10.1111/j.1601-5215.2011.00562.x
van den Heuvel, O.A., Veltman, D.J., Groenewegen, H.J., Cath, D.C., van Balkom, A., van Hartskamp, J., . . . van Dyck, R. (2005). Frontal-striatal dysfunction during planning in obsessive-compulsive disorder. Archives of General Psychiatry, 62, 301310. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.62.3.301
Van der Linden, M., Ceschi, G., Zermatten, A., Dunker, D., & Perroud, A. (2005). Investigation of response inhibition in obsessive-compulsive disorder using the Hayling task. Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, 11, 776783. doi:10.1017/s1355617705050927
Veale, D.M., Sahakian, B.J., Owen, A.M., & Marks, I.M. (1996). Specific cognitive deficits in tests sensitive to frontal lobe dysfunction in obsessive-compulsive disorder. Psychological Medicine, 26, 12611269.
Watkins, L.H., Sahakian, B.J., Robertson, M.M., Veale, D.M., Rogers, R.D., Pickard, K.M., . . . Robbins, T.W. (2005). Executive function in Tourette's syndrome and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Psychological Medicine, 35, 571582. doi:10.1017/s0033291704003691
West, R., & Craik, F.I. (2001). Influences on the efficiency of prospective memory in younger and older adults. Psychology and Aging, 16, 682696.
West, R., Scolaro, A.J., & Bailey, K. (2011). When goals collide: The interaction between prospective memory and task switching. Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology, 65, 3847. doi: 10.1037/a0022810


Checking Behaviours, Prospective Memory and Executive Functions

  • Lorna Elise Palmer (a1), Kevin Durkin (a1) and Sinéad M. Rhodes (a1)


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed