Executive function in body dysmorphic disorder

Judy Dunai, Izelle Labuschagne, David Castle, Michael Kyrios, Susan Rossell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Citations (Scopus)


Background 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.Method 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).Results 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.Conclusions 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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1541-1548
Number of pages8
JournalPsychological Medicine
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2010


  • Body dysmorphic disorder
  • executive function


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