[RESEARCH INSIDER] Researching the impact of OCD on learning and decision-making

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Research Insider this week gets up close with Aleya Aziz Marzuki, who is in her third year pursuing her PhD in Psychology, at the University of Cambridge. She is studying how decision-making and learning processes are affected in adolescents with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Research Insider also identifies the areas of United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) which the research covers and its impact.


What got you into your research field?

In the final year of my Bachelor’s degree, I read ‘The Man Who Couldn’t Stop’ by David Adam which depicts the realistic struggles of OCD as well as some fascinating insight into the science behind the disorder. Afterwards, reading up on the academic literature made me realise that there were still many unanswered questions about how OCD impacts ones’ mental processes. As a result, I was driven to pursue a PhD in order to contribute to the growing knowledge of OCD, which can be in turn utilised to aid and support those struggling with the disorder.      

Aleya Aziz Marzuki is in her third year pursuing her PhD in Psychology at the University of Cambridge.

What is the novelty of your research?

Most of the research currently on learning and decision-making in OCD focuses on adults with the disorder. The cognitive features of adolescent-OCD, on the other hand, are not well-documented as research into this population is limited. Existing research currently employs computer games to collect learning and decision-making data, and standard statistical tests to understand this data, but these measures may not be sensitive enough to measure the true impact of OCD on performance. In my research I use a powerful method called computational modelling to simulate and disentangle underlying mechanisms contributing to learning and decision-making difficulties in this population. 

Why is your research important?

OCD affects 1-2% of the world’s population, and half of all cases of OCD are estimated to have a child/adolescent onset. OCD can be extremely debilitating as the disturbing thoughts and repetitive compulsions can cause fatigue, irritation, loss of attention, and a great deal of anxiety. It is no wonder than many students with OCD report issues concentrating on schoolwork and forming social connections. By understanding how the disorder impacts learning and decision-making we can help struggling students, potentially by informing policy for how education can be made more inclusive to individuals with mental health conditions. 

What is the SDG impact of your research?

Thirty-six per cent of patients with OCD report lifetime suicidal thoughts and 11% have a history of attempted suicide. Even amongst non-suicidal patients, ‘quality of life’ measures for these individuals are significantly low. Researching cognitive mechanisms underlying the disorder can inform future cognitive-based therapeutic interventions which aligns with SDG 3 that seeks to address the burden of non-communicable diseases, including mental health. Moreover, studying how OCD impacts learning in youths aligns with SDG 3, as this research has the potential to shape how education can be made more inclusive and equitable to young individuals with mental health conditions.

Watch the second episode of Malaysian Research Insider, a webinar series organised by Malaysian Biosciences Scholars (MBIOS) and 100 Scientists of Malaysia in collaboration with Science Media Centre Malaysia with Aleya Aziz Marzuki

**All previous posts about Research Insider: https://sciencemediacentremalaysia.com/tag/research-insider/

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