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Texas State researcher dispels 115-year-old myth propagated by Freud

Posted by Jayme Blaschke
Office of Media Relations
September 8, 2017

A new study conducted by Amitai Abramovitch, assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at Texas State University, shows that obsessive-compulsive disorder is not associated with superior intelligence quotient (IQ), a myth dating back 115 years and popularized by Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud.

The study by Abramovitch and colleagues disputes the longstanding myth that individuals diagnosed with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) have superior intelligence compared to the general population. The results appear in the September issue of the journal Neuropsychology Review.

The authors tracked the origins of the myth to the French physician Pierre Janet in 1903, but it received widespread attention in 1909 via Freud. Surprisingly, this myth–never studied empirically–is still maintained today by the general public, professionals and individuals diagnosed with OCD. As noted in the study, a present-day example for this myth is the TV series Monk which showed the OCD-afflicted title character using his above-average intelligence to solve challenging mysteries.

Abramovitch and his team, including Gideon Anholt, Ben Gurion University in Israel, and Jonathan Abramowitz, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, conducted a meta-analysis of all the available literature on IQ in OCD samples versus non-psychiatric controls (98 studies), and found that contrary to the prevailing myth, OCD is not associated with superior IQ, but with normative IQ, that is slightly lowered compared to control samples. The authors suggested that the small reduction in IQ scores in OCD may be largely attributed to OCD-related slowness and not to intellectual ability per se.

The importance of the study is twofold. First, the mistaken belief of superior IQ among individuals diagnosed with OCD may decrease their motivation to seek professional help. Second, Abramovitch and his colleagues recommend that future IQ assessments of individuals with OCD focus on verbal and not performance IQ–a score heavily influenced by slowness. 

The study, "Meta-Analysis of Intelligence Quotient (IQ) in Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder," may be found at https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11065-017-9358-0.

About Texas State University

Founded in 1899, Texas State University is among the largest universities in Texas with an enrollment of 38,849 students on campuses in San Marcos and Round Rock. Texas State’s 180,000-plus alumni are a powerful force in serving the economic workforce needs of Texas and throughout the world. Designated an Emerging Research University by the State of Texas, Texas State is classified under “Doctoral Universities: Higher Research Activity,” the second-highest designation for research institutions under the Carnegie classification system.

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