Suppress or accept? A pilot study to evaluate the effect of coping strategies on ern amplitude among individuals with obsessive-compulsive traits

Laura Zambrano-Vazquez, Yvette Z. Szabo, Craig Lee Santerre, John J.B. Allen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Intrusive thoughts are characteristic of psychological disorders; attempts to cope can become maladaptive perpetuating the problem (e.g., thought suppression), while others can provide long-term symptoms relief (e.g., acceptance). Although emerging research begins to explore the neural correlates of these strategies in healthy population, it is important to explore these strategies in populations more likely to naturally attempt to use such strategies (clinical symptoms). The present study explored if the use of cognitive strategies to manage intrusive cognitions would be differentially reflected in psychophysiological measures (i.e., error-related negativity) of individuals characterized by obsessive-compulsive symptoms – a group commonly associated with suppression efforts – relative to a low OC control. Material/ Methods: 67 participants with high and low OC symptoms were randomly assigned to cognitive strategy (suppression or accept-ance). Participants watched an emotion-eliciting video clip and used the assigned cognitive strategy while performing the Stroop task. EEG data was collected. Results: Consistent with well-established and emerging literature, ERN was enhanced in individuals with high OC symptoms and a marginal effect of thought-control strategy was observed, such that ERN amplitude was reduced in the suppression condition and greater for the acceptance condition. Conclusions: Uniquely, the study expanded on emerging literature by exploring whether the relationship between ERN and cognitive strategies was moderated by OC level. Although results were not conclusive, these preliminary findings represent an important first step to study effects of suppression and acceptance on the ERN in a sample characterized by clinically-relevant symptoms and overall encourage further exploration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)283-301
Number of pages19
JournalActa Neuropsychologica
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2019


  • Acceptance
  • ERN
  • Intrusions
  • OCD
  • Suppression

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Applied Psychology


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