Cognitive control processes in behavior therapy for youth with Tourette’s disorder

Joseph F. McGuire, Alexandra Sturm, Emily J. Ricketts, Gabrielle E. Montalbano, Susanna Chang, Sandra K. Loo, Douglas W. Woods, James McCracken, John Piacentini

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Cognitive control processes are implicated in the behavioral treatment of Tourette’s disorder (TD). However, the influence of these processes on treatment outcomes has received minimal attention. This study examined whether cognitive control processes and/or tic suppression predicted reductions in tic severity and treatment response to behavior therapy. Method: Fifty-three youth with TD or a pervasive tic disorder participated in a randomized wait list-controlled trial of behavior therapy. Following a baseline assessment to evaluate psychiatric diagnoses, tic severity, and cognitive control processes (e.g., response selection, inhibition, and suppression), youth were randomly assigned to receive eight sessions of behavior therapy (n = 23) or a wait list of equal duration (n = 28). Youth receiving immediate treatment completed a post-treatment assessment to determine improvement in tic severity. Meanwhile, youth in the wait list condition completed another assessment to re-evaluate tic severity and cognitive control processes, and subsequently received 8 sessions of behavior therapy followed by a post-treatment assessment to determine improvement. Results: A multiple linear regression model found that pretreatment inhibition/switching on the Delis-Kaplan Executive Function System Color-Word Interference Test predicted reductions in tic severity after behavior therapy (β = −.36, t = −2.35, p =.025, ƞ2 =.15). However, other cognitive control processes and tic suppression did not predict treatment response and/or reductions in tic severity. Small nonsignificant effects were observed in cognitive control processes after behavior therapy. Conclusion: Cognitive control processes may influence tic severity reductions in behavior therapy. Notably, even when other cognitive control processes are impaired and youth are initially unable to voluntarily suppress their tics, youth with TD can still benefit from behavior therapy. Findings offer implications for clinical practice and research for TD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)296-304
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2022


  • Cognitive control
  • behavior therapy
  • inhibition
  • inhibitory control
  • tic suppression

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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