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Preoccupation with Imagination May be Sign of OCD

Preoccupation with Imagination May be Sign of OCD

A new Canadian study suggests confusing reality with imagination and losing contact with reality are two key characteristics that could play a role in the development of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

The finding by researchers at the CIUSSS de l’Est-de-l’Île-de-Montréal (Institut universitaire en santé mentale de Montréal) and the University of Montreal appear in the Journal of Clinical Psychology.

“In general, researchers agree on the diagnostic criteria of OCD. However, there is no consensus on the mechanisms underlying them,” said Frederick Aardema, co-director of the Obsessive-Compulsive and Tic Disorder Studies Centre (CETOCT).

The new finding builds upon 2011 research in which the CETOCT team observed that people who rely heavily on their imagination and have a strong tendency to dissociate from reality, had more obsessive symptoms.

The aim of the current study was to confirm these observations in a population with OCD.

“Theories about OCD stipulate that it is not the content of thought that is involved in the development of obsessions but the way these thoughts are interpreted by the person,” added Aardema, assistant professor in the University of Montreal’s Department of Psychiatry.

“While most people will dismiss an idea if they feel it has no meaning, people with OCD will say that if they think that way they must be a reason.”

In the study, researchers asked 75 people with OCD to complete questionnaires assessing inferential confusion, schizotypal personality, dissociative experiences, strength of obsessive beliefs, and depressive and anxiety symptoms.

“First, inferential confusion is a reasoning process in which obsessive doubt takes hold. Individuals make subjective connections between different elements,” explained Stella-Marie Paradisis, a doctoral student in psychology at the University of Montreal and lead author of the study.

“For example, the person believes that the water in a municipal swimming pool is contaminated because chlorine has been put into it, so inevitably there are bacteria in the water.

“Second, schizotypical personality is characterized by bizarre ideas, rigid belief, lack of discernment, and a tendency to overrely on imagination. In this case, individuals are convinced that what they hear on the news or read in the newspaper concerns them personally and directly.

Finally, dissociation is characterized by loss of contact with reality and memory lapses in certain situations — a phenomenon that can be observed especially in people who display checking behavior. Some people feel that they can behave so differently depending on the situation that they are two different people.”

Study results highlight the important role of inferential confusion and dissociative experiences, which are signs that best predict OCD symptoms.

“It seems that people with OCD are so absorbed by their obsession due to inferential confusion that there is a break with reality,” explained Professor Aardema.

“Specifically, we found that individuals no longer rely on their sensory perceptions or common sense but on their imagination. For example, they are afraid that their hands are contaminated with germs, so they wash them over and over again because they are convinced that their hands are dirty even though they are visibly clean.”

Saliently, factors such as anxiety and depressive symptoms, schizotypal personality, and obsessive beliefs appear to play an insignificant role in the development of OCD symptoms. However, researcher discovered that they do influence the severity of the disorder.

Source: University of Montreal/EurekAlert
Man with obsessive thoughts photo by shutterstock.

Preoccupation with Imagination May be Sign of OCD

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Preoccupation with Imagination May be Sign of OCD. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 2, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 14 Aug 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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