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Having a vivid imagination seems to make things worse for people with OCD

20 December 2017

At the heart of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are the intrusive, often distressing, thoughts.

My skin is dirty… I must have left the gas on and my house will burn down… But why do some obsessive thoughts compel the person to act on them, while others don’t? And how are some people with OCD able to control the compulsion to act – to repeatedly wash their hands, or to go home to check appliances, for example – while others can’t?

As the authors of a new study on OCD, published in Clinical Psychological Psychotherapy, point out: “A single negative intrusive thought may result in an avalanche of compulsive behaviour, whereas even hours of intrusive thought may prompt little or no compulsive behaviour in some individuals.”

An earlier internet-based pilot study of people diagnosed with OCD, by the same team, suggested that if the obsessive thoughts are accompanied by matching illusory sensory perceptions (preoccupation with the idea of one’s house burning down accompanied by the smell of smoke, for example), this makes the experience more intense, and is more likely to lead to compulsive behaviour.

Read more on our Research Digest blog.

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