That’s Not OCD, You’re Just a Slacker

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?

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 this bit of advice from Vince Lombardi:

The price of success is hard work, dedication to the job at hand, and the determination that whether we win or lose, we have applied the best of ourselves to the task at hand.

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 replies on “That’s Not OCD, You’re Just a Slacker”

Great article! It’s a shame that determination, focus, and drive, once drivers of innovation and invention, are now considered indicators of a mental disorder.

Where are all the makers, the doers, the creators of light and fame? I doubt they are watching television.

studying hard is not OCD

taking 20min to turn off a light ‘just right’ is OCD

While I agree that hard work and diligence are not disorders, there is a huge difference between that and perfectionism border-lining on dysfunction. A hard worker understands that breaks and hanging out with friends in moderation is quite healthy and, increases productivity in the long run. A person with Obsessive-compulsive Personality Disorder will not stop for any reason until perfection is attained. This can cause problems with inter-personal relationships and their ability to function in society. As with any psychopathology, symptoms do not make the disorder. We have to ask ourselves if the behavior is deviant from the norm, does it cause dysfunction in the person’s school, work or inter-personal relationships, does it cause them distress, and lastly are they a danger to themselves or others.

I’m a third year psych major and I see where the dysfunction possibly lies in this question. Refusing to go out with colleagues and friends when there are no major exams or assignments due in the near future suggests an obsession with perfection and compulsion to continue to work until perfection is achieved. The problem with perfection and a person with OCPD is that nothing is ever perfect. It’s a vicious cycle. I do agree however, that there is not enough information in that question to accurately determine if this student is just engrossed in their studies or if they have a serious mental disorder.

The correct answer is C. Obsessive-compulsive traits.

This is considered perfectly normal, for the most part.

In fact, while you make fun of the professor and give them a ‘for shame’ for calling this behavior disordered, they were trying to make the same point you were – that that’s not disordered behavior.

Considering they’re talking about more ‘advanced’ stuff, I’d have to guess this is an undergraduate level psycopathology class and whoever wrote this is a C student who didn’t understand the question.

I think you are incorrectly assuming that the test question is judging the behavior it describes to be disordered. The joke answer is not that far off from the spirit of the real answer, which is probably C: obsessive-compulsive traits. One of the required criteria of a disorder is that it causes personal distress or impairment. The test question goes out of the way to mention that the student’s behavior is not maladaptive (he is doing well in school as a result) and that he is in a stable relationship. This question is testing whether you understand that traits associated with a disorder do not of themselves constitute a disorder, and are in fact found in highly functional people.

The author of this post could very well be the same person who wrote the extra answer in blue pen. If you have OCD, you most likely don’t realize it, or you justify it as “diligence and focus.” I’m sure the medical student in the textbook didn’t feel that he had a “disorder;” just that he was a hard-working student.

I don’t think the authors are saying the person in the question has a mental disorder. I think the correct answer is C: obsessive compulsive TRAITS. I could be wrong though.

I would often sit in the classroom by myself doing tutorials. I wouldn’t socialise with my class because most of them were douchebags, complete wasters. I was happy doing more computer study than going for a pint in the local shithole. I was happy attending all my lectures. I mean, I didn’t go to college to go socialise when classes were on? I think the question could have been rephrased to say “What psychological condition did his CLASSMATES likely have?” The answer isn’t even there, it’s called “Laziness”.

I’d be wary of labelling this chap as possessing “obsessive-compulsive traits” without more information than the vignette provides. His lack of delight in partying may simply be because he is relatively introverted, rather than extroverted. Another normal trait.

The problem with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of mental disorders (The DSM) is that there is no entry for “Normal Personality”.

If the mythical medical student did happen to have OC traits then he was using them constructively. Perhaps this was the point the examiner wished the students to understand, but there is insufficient context to know whether this is true.

As a health professional I would certainly not want to “treat” this apparently well-functioning individual unless his “traits” caused some problem that was not included in the brief description.

One of the things I tried to teach my interns was a healthy skepticism about what was “abnormal” behavior, given the environment and the circumstances of the situation in which it was expressed, and a health skepticism about interpreting elevations on standard personality scales without knowing the patient’s history and background.

If a patient throws a tantrum in a waiting room when told that this Xray has been cancelled again (for the fourth time) this does not necessary mean that the patient is suffering from a personality disorder or impairment of the parts of the brain that regulate behavioural expression. A sick person who is struggling with pain and indignity is entitled to this type of behaviour in the circumstances.

When a group of intern psychologists, but not the intern medicos, get blips on the personality disorder scale of a well-known test it does not mean that the psych group are all deviants who should not be practising psycyology. It probably means that they are good researchers who have been trained to question authority.

I hope the professor who set the test made this kind of thing clear.

I personally would say that guy has OCPD, definitely not OCD. OCPD presents in the form of pretty much making someone a good student while interfering somewhat with life, like social functioning. If that question did indeed sound normal to him, he should have studied for that test and known the answer. He was just trollin. So, yeah, I’d say he got the wrong answer all the way around.

to Hank_scorpio…you obviously didn’t like going to those lecture alls that’s socialize not socialise

zeus: “Socialise” is a perfectly acceptable alternative for “socialize”; the former is the UK English spelling, the latter is US English.

Well, the question was put rather awkwardly, like so often happens in tests. It should have read something like: “If the student has a disorder, what is it?”, or something like that. And then I’d go for answer C any time; D and E are totally off, even a non-psychologist would know that, and A and B are too severe IMO to fit the bill.

Psychology isn’t a serious major anyway, why the hell would you waste so much time on it

Wow you psychologists are full of as much bullshit as this question. Its a good thing you need a doctorate to counsel people. As it is we are a nation(America) fucked up on medication. Ritalin for the young-ins; anti-depressants for the adults.

You have to wonder if man is fucked up because reality is and it’s the only way to function? Or perhaps an acceptable level of insanity is just the right thing for intellect? Personally I think the sanest man is he who questions his sanity.

The question clearly asks what “disorder” does the student have. C is not even a disorder, and the behavior listed doesn’t seem to be adequate to diagnose a disorder, though OCPD would be the closest thing. The fact that he is doing well in class and can hang on to a girlfriend with no trouble tells me his behavior is not dysfunctional nor harmful at all.

Thanks for clearing that up Psychologist and Other Psychologist. As for Alexander (the 3rd year psyc. major), you might want to leave the diagnosing to the one’s with PhD or MD behind their name. I have a psyc degree and it’s not worth the paper I wipe my backside with, except it got me into med school. You must not know the extreme and sometimes unbearable amount of information we are responsible for. If you did you would understand that, while I understand the importance of a social life, I can’t seem to justify going out for Margs on Cinco de Mayo when I haven’t come close to covering the amount of material I am going to be tested on come Monday!

A 23-year old medical student makes lists of all the tasks that he must accomplish each day.
To-do lists are incredibly helpful when you have 10-15 things to do. You don’t miss anything, and you can prioritize them in case something has to drop. “A” for planning.

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.
Maybe his colleagues are dicks, or he’s introverted and needs some “me” time. I’d prefer a doctor who studied harder than he drank. Plus, he’s in medical school, not Hamburger U.

He keeps meticulous notes during all his classes and prefers to attend every lecture, not trusting his colleagues to take notes for him.
It’s called responsibility. Another “A” for recognizing it’s his.

He is doing well in school and has a girlfriend who is also a medical student.
Doing well in school you say? You mean, with all the studying and taking of meticulous notes? Imagine. His girlfriend probably appreciates his ability to nail the G-spot, whether or not he drew a map.

Which of the following disorders does this student most likely have?
I didn’t see it on the list. Isn’t it obvious? Cancer. OK, it’s not a disorder. Does it bother you that I wrote down something that wasn’t a disorder? What does that suggest YOU have?

Sounds like Sheldon! Except Sheldon doesn’t have a girlfriend, but he does go to the comic book store. Sheldon does socialize with his colleagues regularly, albeit in a structured schedule kind of way.

It would be more fun to analyze Sheldon. :)

All kidding aside, this medical student sounds normal to me. But then I studied engineering.

As someone who has OCD, I think the key phrase in the question is: “He is doing well in school and has a girlfriend…” So the answer must be “C.”

Almost everyone has quirks, it’s once they start causing problems academically/socially/etc. that medical intervention is required. Honestly, I don’t see the question as a symptom of the times–it’s a simple question for students who are studying psychology.

Zeus – I think you’ll find that ‘socialise’ is correct everywhere except the US. In Australia and the UK, we speak British English. That means that when a word ends in ‘ize’, we would write ‘ise’. We have other funny quirks like saying ‘zed’ instead of ‘zee’.

nonody knows how hard it is to really have OCD. I hate when people go around. And the it freely. Id rather be retarded than have OCD

Many people on both sides of the argument have made good points. However, no one has acknowledged that this “test” might not even be real. I have seen this picture on a several websites and I think its a least possible that this is just a joke.

He doesn’t have OCD, he would have OCPD. At least hate on the right diagnosis. lol.

“Acquire empathy, good interpersonal skills, and confidence. Learn to read body language and non-verbal communication. Don’t just concentrate on your vocational or technical skills, or you’ll find your wife f****ing somebody else.”

It’s also worth noting you can have a girlfriend and still not talk to her.

I think the answer is supposed to be C…and they ARE ocd traits. It doesn’t interfere with his functioning so it is not disordered. PS I work at a residential treatment program for very severe OCD so I know what I’m talking about.

Canadians always knew that! Shiite! That’s why we suffer from “Brain-Drain” in this country – all our super-achievers (most our University grads) go South of the border to bilk Yankee Doodle out of big cash for knowledge that is common -place, here in the snow-banks! Then they come back home, build retirement homes of a practical nature in our clean expanses, on our clean lakes and streams, and live happily ever after, often authoring some of the Bull Shiite you Yanks take to heart, while drinking home-brew, or fine home-made wine, in flannel checked shirts, and great woolly gray socks, by their firesides, in Straw Bale homes even, along side country roads just outside towns, villages cities. Some even self-sufficient, sustainable, independent! Yankee Doodle’s Capitalist/corporatist philosophies are full of it! So is his ‘McMansions in a rubber wheeled, gasoline powered SUV driven ‘burb by the corporate factory door’ world. That’s why commie Asians are pulling way out ahead of Americans as we speak! Even some really bright Americans are beginning to admit that America’s corpocracy does not serve the American proletariat, precariat, disenfranchised, not even national interests – it only serves the well moneyed old families and their kin! You drive a Maybach lately? live in a gated village with armed guards? White ones? Hidden away? in an idealistic spot? Have your own “commuter-jet”? Pay your bills with cash from dividend checks? From Capital sunk in Asian markets? Stolen from the American proletariat decades ago? Fuck No! Your ass is in debt, your car on payments, and depreciating even faster than the balance falls, foreclosure breathing down your back, your groceries on credit cards, interest rates rising, your wages falling, your dollar losing purchasing power, daily, your drinking water fouled, hormones in your milk giving your daughters breasts before they finish public schools,fore fuck’s sakes, making willing breeders out of them before high school is finished, even killing off post-secondary aspirations, milk, so filled with hormones is illegal in other countries, even Canada, your job insecure, about to go off-shore, your taxes rising, and still, gasoline prices rising, even after the Iraq fiasco and tax sacrifices, New York banksters raping your retirement funds before your very eyes, you stupid ass-hole, the Iraqi oil gains all went to the oil barons, you pay so called, “World Prices” at the pumps for gasoline don’t you, you believe that “One day, down the road, I will reach the mystical $250.000.00 dollar tax free level and live happily ever after!” Ya sure! Right after you are diagnosed with some rare disease, treatable, but not covered by your medical insurance – have you read the fine print? Do you understand what it means? Are the corporate lawyers hiding loop-holes from you here? Are they Corporatists? What is really in their best interests, not yours? Who payed them to write this ‘legalese’? Do you trust them where big money is on the table? Can medical expenses wipe you out? For life?
Can you afford University of quality for your kids? Do they really want knowledge, or just a piece of paper that is supposed to guarantee a good job?
Canadian students, for the most part group together for economies sake, hole up and sweat the midnight hours for five, six, even seven years, rarely spending more than nickels and dimes for bare sustenance foods, visiting food banks, even using second-hand texts, writing on both sides of the paper, always, fight their way upwards through community colleges and Universities like Trent University, Peterborough, Ontario that offer free tuition for Canadian citizens with a 95% + average, and they find many applicants ! Dope here in Canada will never be legalized! Beer is too good! Too cheap! Available at many micro-breweries through-out all Canadian cities, towns. Made pure, the German traditional way – safe and actually nutritious! Won’t keep long! Not ever pasteurized into cans, shameful American practice, no corn sugars, another shameful American practice, only malt barley from Canadian fields ! All micro-nutrients intact! Gives you the Shiites the first time you drink it, but once your natural flora adjust . . . Our laws, Thanks to a Christian, conservative, Prime Minister, have huge, extremely harsh sentences connected to dope. Our judges abide closely to the laws of this land – heavy sentences for selling, distributing even small quantities of all illegal drugs1 We are not even allowed to have guns! Only “Long-guns” for farmers, hunters, and not in the streets, not ever.
Our students form happy ghettos in well patrolled low rent areas, co-op for food shopping, frequent the many second hand stores, and live a quaint but enjoyable life-style, honored and respected, supported by policemen, towns-folk, churches, synagogues, mosques. They rarely form drunken rowdy masses, they have no need to! We have buses to accommodate them, with cheaper seasonal passes available, and for the most part they have a good time on campus too!
America! Look to the social democracy , Canada, look, even to Sweden, Norway. Watch closely as Asians rise in power. Ask: Do we believe the corporatists mantra, reciting it by heart, without ever looking past the McCarthyism blinkers, without ever thinking, evaluating, with a clear honest unprejudiced logic? Are we really born only to consume, churn money so corporatists can skim fortunes off our backs? Is this our raison d’etre? reason for being? Can we really bomb the world into submission? Will bombs find more of our precious oil? Force Mother Earth to provide that which she has been completely milked of? Will she be threatened by our nuclear power to do the impossible? Do we believe a Military/Industrial mythology? Out of necessity? As we are brain-washed to do so by every corporate spin-doctor? Is this the fantasy, and 1.3 billion Chinese, and many more Asians in India, Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam, Mongolia , all wrong? Soon to die in our service? or is it the other way around? Are they fooling themselves? Will we really reign supreme? Is our collective IQ so much greater? Are our Universities really populated by the best and the brightest? Not those who can pay? China selects from the huge gene pool, 1.3 billion bodies, minds, the very best, the very brightest, regardless of financial consideration, and give them the highest education possible, for free! can America do likewise? Not likely! We have been fed a crock of Shiite! Our schools 39th in the world, our education worthless in the rest of the world, diplomas laughing matters in most out-side countries, contrary to the popular corporate mythologies!
Go to school Yankee Doodle! But do it in Switzerland! They rate much higher than schools at home.

While I agree that there’s no diagnosis to make here at all, he’s just a diligent student; but wouldn’t the closest he thing he may have be antisocial tendencies?
Truth be told it’s jut his colleagues that he has trouble interacting with; maybe they’re just all assholes?

I don’t think this would be OCD or anything related, I think it would be more on the paranoid personality traits/disorder. There is nothing wrong with that though.

I’m currently a medical student in the US and one of my classmates sent me this picture last week after seeing it on reddit.
Needless to say this describes not only myself, but pretty much everyone else that is doing well in my and other terms. A lot of our USMLE review questions have weird setups that are nice to have when spending hours upon hours reviewing material… which i should get back to…

Good points! I am a therapist and I am tired of everyone doing arm-chair diagnosis all the time. I think it is often motivated by a sense of jealousy. I don’t have the discipline and drive of others – sooo, there must be something wrong with them!

A major part of the problem here is that students are being taught to focus on symptoms which can be medicated rather than overall function which may indicate environmental solutions. This has been an ongoing problem ever since the psychiatric sector took complete control over the DSM starting with the revised third version and effectively eliminated most input from the psychological and sociological sectors, thus putting the focus of treatment firmly in the realm of the pharmaceutical industry.

The important part of the question is that the student has a girlfriend, and so we are expected to assume that he is functional. And so rather than choose obsessive-compulsive personality, the fact that he is functional and not stressed by these traits would point toward obsessive-compulsive traits. In the end, this question kind of sucks but I guess it is interesting to highlight the difference between personality quirks and a personality disorder.

It troubles me that no one has yet pointed out that ttyoms might actually enjoy what he’s studying, and prefer it to partying. We seem to associate school and work with drudgery. Is a Playboy photographer who works lots of overtime really a workaholic?

I used to work for a Fortune 50 corporation that spent millions on MBTI typing every employee, only to use the results to all but label the introverts as misanthropes in desperate need of coaching.

I think that if you enjoy what you do, aren’t hurting anyone else, and are productive, ‘the system’ will ultimately have a hard time describing you as diseased. Should you really stop what you’re doing to go swill Miller Lite with the folks who have no motives or motivations?

All that being said, I think Ciara might be right – we should at least consider that this is just a picture on the internet.

It’s a made-up story, I’ve been to university with people like him: he does NOT have a girlfriend.

Kendall Giles: those inventors were most likely ADHD and/or autistic, actually…we’re the ones who are creative enough, out of the box enough and obsessive enough on the small things that we invent or discover things most others never even think of.

As you can tell, I got here through StumbleUpon, and I’m kind of pissed about what I’m seeing on the comments. At first, everyone was just answering the question in the photo, and commenting on the apparent students answer, that was perfectly fine. Then I read comment 16 & 17:

wtf man May 5, 2011 at 6:45 pm

Psychology isn’t a serious major anyway, why the hell would you waste so much time on it.

Engineer May 5, 2011 at 7:49 pm

Wow you psychologists are full of as much bullshit as this question. Its a good thing you need a doctorate to counsel people. As it is we are a nation(America) fucked up on medication. Ritalin for the young-ins; anti-depressants for the adults.

You have to wonder if man is fucked up because reality is and it’s the only way to function? Or perhaps an acceptable level of insanity is just the right thing for intellect? Personally I think the sanest man is he who questions his sanity.

Why are these people insulting an academic field they apparently know little of, and clearly have not experienced its range of uses? And then we had zeus. The apparent American who does not realize…realise….realis/ze…..(whatever) that American English is *Special English, for a *Special country. And then many comments against him followed suit. Basically: Wtf happened to this post?

@Uncle B; Here’s a helpful hint for you: a troll is much more effective when it’s less than 1,000 words.

It’s OCD. No, is it OCPD? No wait, let me read that again. Yes, OCPD. Or OCD? Wait, I need to run through it again. Yes. OCD. Or OCPD? Let me just check again…

The answer probably wouldn’t be OCD. I’d put it as obsessive compulsive personality disorder.

In any case, you all are right; this is a poorly worded question. In order to be defined as a disorder (personality or not), the condition must be maladaptive, or harmful to either the person and/or the people around him. My first defense of any diagnosis might be that he’s missing out on social engagements, but it sounds like this student has his life together (he can manage both a girlfriend and his work, after all).

Comments are closed.