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Executive function in body dysmorphic disorder

  • J. Dunai (a1), I. Labuschagne (a2), D. J. Castle (a1) (a3) (a4), M. Kyrios (a5) and S. L. Rossell (a1) (a2) (a4)...

Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is a poorly understood disorder that involves a preoccupation with imagined or minor bodily defects. Only a few studies of neuropsychological function have been conducted. Two previous studies have indicated executive dysfunction in BDD. The current study sought to further define these executive deficits.


Fourteen DSM-IV BDD patients and 14 age- and sex-matched control participants took part. Because of the high incidence of co-morbidity in BDD, patients with co-morbid Axis I disorders were not excluded. Control participants had no history of psychiatric illness. All participants completed the following executive function (EF) tests: Spatial Span (SS), Spatial Working Memory (SWM) and the Stockings of Cambridge (SOC) task. They also completed the Pattern Recognition (PR) test, a test of visual memory (VM).


BDD participants made significantly more between-search errors on the SWM task, an effect that increased with task difficulty. Between-search errors are an example of poor maintenance and manipulation of information. SOC results indicated slower subsequent thinking times (i.e. the time taken to plan) in BDD participants. There were no group differences in SS or PR scores. The severity of BDD, depressive or anxiety symptoms was not correlated with performance on any of the cognitive tasks.


The results of this study indicate that BDD patients have EF deficits in on-line manipulation, planning and organization of information. By contrast, spatial memory capacity, motor speed and visual memory were intact. Considered with evidence from lesion and neuroimaging studies, these results suggest frontal lobe dysfunction in BDD.

Corresponding author
*Address for correspondence: A/Professor S. L. Rossell, Cognitive Neuropsychiatry Laboratory, MAP-RC, School of Psychology, Psychiatry and Psychological Medicine, 1st Floor, Old Baker Building, The Alfred, Commercial Road, Melbourne, VIC3004, Australia. (Email:
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