The broad spectrum of mental illness is classified by unique conditions and symptoms. Each psychological issue has its own hallmark traits, risk factors and manifestations. But many overlap in several areas, including behavioral, emotional, and even neurological. In fact, research has shown that many psychological conditions share neurological deficits and impairments.
In a recent study by Nemat Jaafari of the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London, neurological soft signs (NSS) were studied to determine whether they are illness-specific, or whether there are certain NSS that are associated only with obsessive-compulsion (OCD). Neurological soft signs are cognitive deficits that affect reflexes, motor coordination, and sensory processing. When these NSS are present in the absence of any neurological disorder, it could indicate a psychological vulnerability.
Research has shown some links between NSS and schizophrenia, substance misuse, antisocial personality, bipolar, posttraumatic stress, and OCD. But for this study, Jaafari wanted to see if these particular NSS, which are usually elevated in individuals with OCD were unique to OCD only. Jaafari conducted two studies involving 85 participants with OCD and 88 control participants. Additionally, Jaafari analyzed data from 15 existing studies on NSS and OCD.
The results revealed that NSS scores were higher in the OCD participants than in the controls. In the study sample of participants, the effect sizes were substantial. But in the analysis, the effect sizes were even larger. This finding suggests that individuals with OCD are likely to have impaired reflexes, sensory processing, and motor coordination. Whether these impairments are a result of OCD, or a risk factor for it is unclear and should be studied in future work.
Additionally, Jaafari found high correlations between NSS and depression. Because this study did not control for depression or other psychological comorbidities, this outcome should prompt further work in this area. Jaafari added, “As a group, patients with OCD have elevated rates of subtle neurological signs, which rather than being specific to OCD, may represent markers of psychopathology in general.” Subsequent research into NSS and psychological impairment may provide clarification into this relationship.
Jaafari, N., et al. (2013). Neurological soft signs in obsessive-compulsive disorder: Two empirical studies and meta-analysis. Psychologica Medicine 43.5 (2013): 1069-79. ProQuest. Web.
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