Skip to main content
Log in

Altered Neural Activity during Negative Reinforcement in People with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

  • Original Article
  • Published:
Cognitive Therapy and Research Aims and scope Submit manuscript



Compulsive behaviors in Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) are posited to be negatively reinforced via short-term negation of distress-inducing triggers, but neural activity during negative reinforcement in the context of OCD remains poorly understood.


In 18 people with OCD and 16 healthy matched comparison subjects completing functional MRI, we tested the effect of a novel negative reinforcement behavioral paradigm. Three visual stimulus types (Compulsion-Related, Negative, Neutral) were displayed in the scanner and removed by participants pressing a button, yielding two analysis epochs: image presentation and image removal.


OCD patients showed a larger increase in medial orbitofrontal cortex (mOFC; BA11) activation after image removal that was specific to compulsion-related images. People with OCD also showed altered patterns of deactivation following compulsion-related and negative image removal in the right and left amygdala, respectively. People with OCD also showed larger deactivations in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) after removal of all image types, and increased overall activation to negative images in the right nucleus accumbens (NAcc).


We provide initial data demonstrating altered neural activity during negative reinforcement in OCD patients, providing empirical support for dominant behavioral models emphasizing the role of negative reinforcement in etiology and maintenance of pathological compulsive behaviors.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Subscribe and save

Springer+ Basic
EUR 32.99 /Month
  • Get 10 units per month
  • Download Article/Chapter or Ebook
  • 1 Unit = 1 Article or 1 Chapter
  • Cancel anytime
Subscribe now

Buy Now

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2

Similar content being viewed by others


Download references


This study was funded by a pilot seed grant from the University of Pittsburgh Brain Institute. We gratefully acknowledge Mary Phillips, MD for her assistance with the IRB protocols.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



SA designed the study. AW, BP, and RBP conducted experiments and acquired data. BP and RBP analyzed data and performed statistical analysis. All authors contributed to writing the manuscript.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Rebecca B. Price or Susanne E. Ahmari.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

The authors have declared that no conflict of interest exists.

Additional information

Publisher’s Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Electronic supplementary material

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

Supplementary Material 1

Rights and permissions

Springer Nature or its licensor (e.g. a society or other partner) holds exclusive rights to this article under a publishing agreement with the author(s) or other rightsholder(s); author self-archiving of the accepted manuscript version of this article is solely governed by the terms of such publishing agreement and applicable law.

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Panny, B., Price, R.B., Wears, A. et al. Altered Neural Activity during Negative Reinforcement in People with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Cogn Ther Res (2024).

Download citation

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • DOI: