That’s Not OCD, You’re Just a Slacker

by Joey deVilla on May 4, 2011

Of all the random pictures floating about the internet that I’ve run into in the past few weeks, this is the one that really got me:

Psychology multiple-choice question where the correct answer is written in:

Here’s the text:

A 23-year old medical student makes lists of all the tasks that he must accomplish each day. He spends hours studying and refuses to go out with his colleagues even when there are no tests on the immediate horizon, preferring to spend his time looking at specimens in the laboratory. He keeps meticulous notes during all his classes and prefers to attend every lecture, not trusting his colleagues to take notes for him. He is doing well in school and has a girlfriend who is also a medical student. Which of the following disorders does this student most likely have?

A. OCD
B. Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder
C. Obsessive-compulsive traits
D. Schizoid personality disorder
E. Paranoid personality disorder

[and written in] F. Fuck you, that sounds totally normal. Asshole.

Even I, Mr. Bon Vivant, have turned down outings to do the computer programming equivalent of “looking at specimens in the laboratory”, and you know what? It paid off in spades.

The medical student in this essay question doesn’t have obsessive-compulsive disorder, it’s just that in the age of slackerdom and ADD, diligence and focus looks like OCD. The question is also a sign of the greatly mistaken notion of the primacy of talent. Yes, talent is important and can give you an edge, but a whole body of studies shows (as does centuries of observation from pundits of all stripes) that in the long run, effort trumps talent. As I should say more often, “The harder I work, the luckier I get.”

If you’d like to read more about how effort trumps talent, take a look at Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, K. Anderson Ericsson’s The Making of an Expert and Jeff Sexton’s nice, brief summary of Keith Bell’s Winning Isn’t Normal.

As for making lists and preferring to take your own notes, I think they’re the best way to stay organized and to learn.

Finally, the medical student in the question is at least sociable enough to have a girlfriend. The fact that she’s also in med school shouldn’t be a surprise: in university, you’re quite likely to date someone who’s in the same field of study as you.

So bravo, unknown psych student with a blue pen. The authors of that textbook may think you have the wrong answer, but you just passed the only test that matters. I salute you with a filet mignon on a flaming sword!

This article also appears in The Adventures of Accordion Guy in the 21st Century.

{ 186 comments… read them below or add one }

151 Mel Semple May 27, 2011 at 2:39 pm

I understand the process of diagnosis and have never taken the GRE, but have seen many examples. I guess I can’t explain what I’m saying any better and I disagree that it is an injustice. We’ll just have to leave it at that. I appreciate what you’re saying. Thank you for intelligently responding to me.

152 Vicki May 28, 2011 at 3:18 am

I have to agree with the student with the blue point pen. Sounds like going to university and being a good student! The media may publise the idiots who go out and get drunk every weekend (or every opportunity) but it is the students who actually work hard that make their own luck and magically get the decent jobs!

153 Janet C May 29, 2011 at 7:59 pm

Answer is C. Alot of med students do have some OCD traits.

154 LT May 30, 2011 at 12:18 am

Slackerdom and ADD lumped together? Really? (Somehow, I’m not surprised.)

I have ADD and I spend a good amount of my time making lists, taking notes, and working my ass off to get head in spite of what misfires may be in my brain. Putting a learning disability with simple laziness? About as unfair as labeling hard work as OCD.

155 Coach May 30, 2011 at 10:54 pm

Having graduated from medical school, I feel reasonably qualified when I state that this individual’s behavior is (sadly) entirely normal within the community of medical students. However, I’d be curious to know what fictitious medical school this individual attended where exams were NOT always on the immediate horizon….

156 saurabh agarwal June 1, 2011 at 2:30 pm

they student in question is normal. The “f” option certainly is correct but let’s assume that the medical student says “ok, this is what i do all day, but i have no idea why and i want to change “; in that case, we treat his mental process and behavior as a disorder.
i suppose thats what the author had in mind before asking the question.

157 D. June 3, 2011 at 9:15 am

You haven’t drawn attention to the tendentious use of the word “disorder”.
Loaded language like that is typical of doctor-speak.

158 D. June 3, 2011 at 9:18 am

Oh, and the tendentious use by the answerer of the word “normal”.
This is typical of humans.

159 Tots June 3, 2011 at 9:25 am

Do you realise the question asks which disorder the student MOST likely has!!! Maybe you should actually read the question!

160 pt June 3, 2011 at 8:29 pm

I agree 100% with LT. I have ADHD and am truly offended by comments where “ADD” are equated to being lazy. This is how the misconceptions get spread. People who don’t know what they’re talking about make comments like that and it reaffirms people’s beliefs or spreads this idea to other people. Walk a day in my shoes, I promise you won’t call anyone with ADD or ADHD lazy again. It’s even harder for people with learning disabilities to be successful than those with out, we deserve respect, not insulted or getting eye-rolls every time we have to explain the disease to the next ignorant person.

161 DB June 4, 2011 at 2:53 pm

Here is a fact for you, B and C students tend to make more money than A students. Why is this? Because we live in a social world where relationships matter. The night he missed going out with his friends could have also been the night he met the person who’s parents had a connection that could get him the job he always wanted. I am entering the job market and with economic conditions the way they are today I wish I had studied less and met more. Most of the interviews I have gotten have been due to the people I know not necessarily what is on my resume. And just because I have ADD doesn’t mean I am a slacker. I struggled greatly with school for 18 years because people like you who think it is some made up disorder for slackers. During those years I worked harder than ever just to get by. Once I got to college I took things into my own hands and found treatment for it. Without treatment I really don’t know if I would have been able to graduate from college. I just graduated with a double major and a 3.02 from the University of Georgia.

162 Joey deVilla June 5, 2011 at 11:56 am

I never equated ADD/ADHD with laziness. What I meant was that in a time where we’re recognizing ADD and ADHD and often mistaking it for laziness, it’s all too easy to do the same with industriousness and confuse it with OCD.

My apologies for any offense caused. It was not my intent to paint people with ADD and ADHD as slackers.

163 Victor Sánchez June 5, 2011 at 4:53 pm

This is more for the comments made about “ignorant” people.

“The more you learn, the more you realize how little you know…”

164 jill June 5, 2011 at 7:19 pm

without the gf he would be schizoid. spending NO time with friends even when u have free time. My brother finished medical school, and yes he studied and did amazing- but every time he could*( not very often) he would go out with friends b/c the stress/ pressure could kill you. Schizoids just choose to be alone over people.. to an extreme.
but this guy has a gf… strange

165 danielle June 5, 2011 at 9:51 pm

Tots: Maybe you should learn how to spell realize.

166 guy who graduated med school yesterday June 6, 2011 at 3:01 pm

Yep, sounds about normal, especially if the med student is planning to go into surgery.

167 Ouroborus June 7, 2011 at 7:47 pm

If you don’t have OCD, you’ve got ADD. But don’t worry. We have drugs for both.

168 David N. Andrews M. Ed., C. P. S. E. June 10, 2011 at 8:59 am

Danielle,

It might do you some good to realise that Tots could be writing from the UK, where the z-spelling is not preferred and the s-spelling is. Maybe you should learn about such differences in spelling.

169 Ethan June 11, 2011 at 4:43 am

DB, a 3.02 gpa is an absolutely abysmal gpa, especially for someone who professed to study more. Getting a “B” grade after supposedly putting forth effort is just awful. It is completely untrue that people need to “socialize” for networking by failing to study. To say otherwise is clearly just enabling self-negating behavior.

170 Laurel June 11, 2011 at 11:59 am

@Danielle: That’s the British spelling of “realize”. Maybe you should “realise” that.

171 Penelope June 11, 2011 at 10:35 pm

The answer is actually B. o_O Who said C?

172 PLee June 15, 2011 at 7:00 pm

The correct answer is actually F. It’s called self-discipline. Sounds to me like the “disorder” that he MOST likely “suffers” from is an “obsession” to do the best he can in med school and is “compulsive” in his approach to achieve success.

173 Adam July 10, 2011 at 11:52 am

Read the question before getting pissy, people. It’s not insulting the guy. It really only is asking “which does he most likely have?” and not “This is you, which disorder do you have?”

174 irock July 14, 2011 at 6:55 am

@DB your GPA is crap.

175 Kat Aldrich August 7, 2011 at 10:55 pm

Hello all,

I would like to start by saying that this was, in all aspects of the word, a fascinating read. I have been intrigued by psychology since I was young, but as I have had the misfortune of experiencing, good psychologists and intelligent people are difficult to come by, so I must profess my deepest respect for Dr. David Andrews, Dan Farfan and Mel Semble.

As all of you have mentioned, the standardized tests of today are woefully lacking in reasoning and comprehension/application of knowledge. I completely agree that this is exactly why there are so many “quack doctors” and “experts” in almost every field. It was a refreshing breath of air to hear from a few truly educated and intelligent professionals.

From my own past experiences, there are way too many partially educated pretenders out there that try to puff themselves up with false superiority, who in the end, manage to break more than they fix. I, myself, being one of the many who were broken through a “specialist’s” misguided assessment of a supposed disorder. See, I grew up in the beginning of the era of “ADD Specialists”, when any quack with a certificate could “diagnose” someone with ADD and convince the parents that the child should be medicated.

I have a mild case of ADD, without the physical hyperactivity. It isn’t my body, but my brain that can’t slow down. It is aggravated by also having an anxiety disorder with insomnia and chronic depression. It doesn’t take much imagination to picture how the supposed “specialist” my parents sent me to saw it.

I was understandably nervous, well, close to an anxiety attack would be a better description, when I went for my “evaluation”. So I fidgeted. I bounced my leg and had a lot of trouble focusing on the questions he was asking me. I repeatedly stood up and paced the room while he was writing. He proceeded to “diagnose” me as ADHD, with hyperactivity and convinced my parents that I needed to be on Ritalin, the new magic drug to help kids focus…

Fortunately, I realized that the proverbial “little voice in the back of my head” that made me want to die wasn’t my own, and I stopped taking that nasty little invention for human control. I also started seeing an actual psychiatrist who was observant enough to correctly diagnose my problems and assist me in managing them to my best ability.

This psychiatrist also suggested that I research the different alternative treatments to medication, research the side effects of the common medications on the market associated with my disorders and make an informed decision on whether or not alternative treatment or medicine would be my course of action. I found it a rather striking in comparison with the majority of even regular doctors I had seen in my life. Most doctors just expect their word to be law without giving any facts or reasoning to back up their claims. This guy was more than willing to empower his patients with the ability to decide the best course of action for themselves.

In my honest opinion, there needs to be more people like him in this world. Aside from the emergency cases where the patient is not capable of making an informed decision, I believe that all doctors, specialists and experts out there should do their best to empower the people they effect and treat. Nowadays, it seems like too many of them are too ready to believe that just because someone else hasn’t gone to college for eight years and earned a degree comparable to their own, that person isn’t capable of making a truly informed decision. The rest of the world isn’t Joe Dirt, but they will definitely continue to seem as such if continued to be treated as such.

Again, my respect to the aforementioned gentlemen for endeavoring to enlighten us and my thanks to the author of this post for his sense of humor and the opportunity for the rest of us to spew our individual founts of knowledge or lack thereof upon this page.

Kat

176 Sam Roberts August 13, 2011 at 5:42 pm

Like someone else stated. If anything he has traits of OCPD, not OCD. Very very very different disorders.

177 Chris August 27, 2011 at 8:59 pm

@LT I wholeheartedly commend your efforts to get head in spite of your ADD. Even people with misfiring going on in their brain deserve oral pleasure.

178 D. Z December 11, 2011 at 7:06 pm

What’s interesting is:
First: Giving an immature answer to this question is part of the answers to the question above this one, i.e. defense mechanisms of the ego.

Second: Not knowing much about the subject, I would just count:
3 or 4 disorders — disorder
3 personality — personality
2 or 3 obsessive-compulsive — obsessive-compulsive

and end with Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder as the Answer,
avoiding any FU remarks, but then I probably have an OCPD myself :)

179 C May 17, 2012 at 10:21 am

This article is awesome. I am diagnosed OCPD and love it. Now that I know I’m “crazy”, I’m totally embracing it. My husband doesn’t mind my meticulously clean house and my professors don’t mind essays turned in weeks ahead of time. Perhaps my awesomeness makes those less driven feel like slackers… but I really don’t see how that’s my problem. Don’t like my lists and one track mind? Suck my 3.92 GPA. And my stress freak-outs? That’ll teach you to leave my shit alone.

180 Akshat June 29, 2012 at 7:49 pm

Dude its B. All you people here saying its OCD or its traits or whateve.
Actually its OCPD by the way mind you OCPD should not be confused with OCD.
Both are totally different things as in case of OCD the person suffers extreme anxiety,helplessness etc whereas in OCPD a person its totally normal with no problems its just just he misses the big picture or simply ”Gets lost seeing the trees instead of watching the whole wood” BTW just try to studybout it and you will know what I mean.

181 Sam July 30, 2012 at 1:47 am

Akshat… you’re wrong.

To quote the key:
C. Although this student clearly demonstrates some traits of obsessivecompulsive behavior, his social and occupational functioning are both
good, which rules out the personality disorder.

182 James Smith May 7, 2013 at 4:31 pm

The fact that determined, dedicated students like this in med school are so rare and regarded as being “disordered” is one good reason to avoid and distrust doctors.

183 Steve T. March 4, 2014 at 12:01 am

Just to nip this one in the bud. The correct answer choice to this question is C). Sam (above) correctly quotes the answer key. Since the student’s life is not being adversely affected by the trait, it is not qualified as a personality disorder.

Source:
Case files: Psychiatry by Eugene C. Toy and Debra L. Klamen

184 Patricia Leftwich March 15, 2014 at 7:05 pm

Actually guys, It’s OCP. I know because I have it! And 100% you do not slack with OCP. I just wanted to clear this up.

185 Kymberlie April 10, 2014 at 3:24 am

It’s OCPD not OCD that this poorly researched rant is referring to.

186 Sotaro Shibahara December 1, 2014 at 6:59 pm

At least no one has suggested the obvious stereotype: G) Stereotypical Asian with Tiger parents #ModelMinorityMyth

I obviously failed at being Asian by that metric, although I kept it up for a good part of my scholastic life, at least enough to maintain an 85% average (usually). ;P

I also question whether being a ‘slacker’ is necessarily about laziness: I often find that having displayed “C” when I was younger to the point of severe distress (perhaps enough to qualify as “B”), I felt sufficiently overwhelmed at trying to perfect every task that I became unable to do anything at all. After a while, it got to the point where I couldn’t even _start_ anything because of the sheer mounting pressure of attempting do every task at hand in a perfect manner (which probably veers right into “B”), which left me unable to function. Eventually, combined concurrent physical ailments and added pressures (parental, academic or otherwise) forced me to deliberately curb my perfectionist tendencies, but every task still seemed so monumental because of a perfectionist need to do it right and do it perfectly that I would succumb to procrastination until literally the night a paper was due before starting it (and well into the evening of the night before), whereupon I would be forced by time and circumstance to pull a rabbit out of a hat (or maybe out of my ass) and I would be forced to live with creating a sub-par (by my standards) paper, project, etc. to hand in. I wouldn’t feel good about it, but it was the only way I could realistically hand in anything, and even then, any time there wasn’t a hard deadline where the alternative was getting a zero/automatic fail, I would hand in papers late (sometimes by weeks). Or I’d suddenly become “sick”. :P

Both in high school and in university, I’ve had this same problem over and over because it became a bad habit that was reinforced by the fact that I still managed to eke out a decent grade despite engaging in these clearly bad (not to mention stressful) work habits, and also consequently left me unable to do anything of worth except at the last minute, and I became increasingly reliant on the pressure of the last minute crunch to write something brilliant, rather than learning to work on a paper conscientiously and methodically in the time given. There was at least one paper I did where I wrote an almost flawless paper (I’d started on the night before the paper was actually due), and then lost 20% off that score because I handed it in 2 weeks late (I think it was a social studies paper). In first year uni I had to go to at least one of my professors (my favourite professor, which is probably the only reason I felt comfortable going to her and talking to her) and ask for a lengthy extension because of my issues, and my sister ended up booking an appointment for me with the university counselling service because I was suffering from extreme clinical depression. One English exam, I didn’t bother to study at all because I knew it was open book, and spent the first 1.5 hours reading the required reading I was supposed to have done, and the rest of the time writing down what I had analyzed on the fly while reading. Thank God for speed reading skills is all I can say. ;P

I started viewing my bad habits as normal, while failing to understand _why_ I was engaging in procrastination and doing everything at the last minute, justifying it to myself by the decent grades I got for things I did at the last minute, and putting down my procrastination to ‘laziness’, when clearly I had mood and anxiety disorders which were preventing me from doing work in a normal way. It took me a long time to critically self-analyze and deconstruct my own myths that I had about my personality and my mental health before I could start to come to terms with the fact that my so-called ‘laziness’ was not actually some innate quality of myself, or a personal character flaw, but a coping mechanism for perfectionist tendencies which had been incentivized by parents and teachers who didn’t recognize that my perfectionist tendencies were not only abnormal, but causing me substantial distress.

Even now, I have difficulty even working on a birthday card for my dad, whose birthday was at the beginning of November (it’s now December 1st), because I wanted to make him a perfect handmade card that I envisioned in my head. Anyone who knows me, and particularly has seen me work when I’m working on something that I really put my mind to, knows that I’m _not_ a slacker, and that “when I apply myself” (that was the caveat permanently etched into my report cards) I exemplify the very opposite of the ‘lazy slacker’ stereotype, and I’ve noticed the same with a lot of my so-called, even self-identifying ‘slacker’ friends.

And then I wonder if they too had the same kinds of issues I did, which led them to identifying with the ‘slacker’ persona, when really, it was just difficult for them to get things done because they couldn’t even get started for their severe anxiety over the seemingly-insurmountable pressure to do everything absolutely perfectly.

On the plus side, because I spent so much of my procrastination time playing video games (as much as an escape from my myriad health problems as for actual work avoidance) that I not only got moderately good at playing them, but left me with a lifelong interest in them that had a tremendous impact on my life, both positive and negative. especially my social life. ;)

tl;dr – what many people only see as ‘laziness’ in others, may in fact be a coping mechanism masking more serious issues in that person’s life, that one shouldn’t necessarily assume that those people are just ‘slackers’ or don’t want to do work: they may just be suffering from something that you don’t know about and can’t possibly know, so uh… cut them some ‘slack’? ;)

@Krantzstone

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