Do you know someone who when leaving their house, always goes back to check to ensure they turned off the gas or propane heaters? Or, do you double check that the front door is locked? Are you sure?
If this sounds familiar, perhaps you can relate to people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) as a new Canadian study clarifies how the fear of losing control over thoughts and actions impacts OCD-related behavior, including checking.
Concordia University researchers explain that although more traditional types of fear — be it of snakes, spiders, dogs, etc. — have been well investigated, this is one of the few studies to focus primarily on the fear of losing control.
“We’ve shown that people who believe they’re going to lose control are significantly more likely to exhibit checking behavior with greater frequency,” says Adam Radomsky, a psychology researcher.
“So, when we treat OCD in the clinic, we can try to reduce their beliefs about losing control and that should reduce their symptoms.”
Radomsky’s findings, coauthored authored with Ph.D. student Jean-Philippe Gagné, appear in the Journal of Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders.
The study is the first in a series of related projects, funded by the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.
“The 133 undergraduate students who participated were given bogus EEGs. They were randomly assigned false feedback that they were either at low or high risk of losing control over their thoughts and actions,” explains Radomsky.
Next, participants were given a computerized task — trying to control the flow of images on a screen by using a sequence of key commands. At any time, they could push the space bar to check or confirm the key sequence.
Those who were led to believe that their risk of losing control was higher engaged in far more checking than those who were led to believe that the risk was low.
Surprisingly, the students who participated in the study did not self-identify as having OCD.
“If you can show that by leading people to believe they might be at risk of losing control, symptoms start to show themselves, then it can tell us something about what might be behind those symptoms in people who do struggle with the problem,” Radomsky says.
“This gives us something we can try to treat.”
The findings were consistent with what he and Gagné expected.
“We hypothesize that people’s fears and beliefs about losing control may put them at risk for a range of problems, including panic disorder, social phobia, OCD, post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and others,” Radomsky adds.
“This work has the potential to vastly improve our ability to understand and treat the full range of anxiety-related problems.”
Source: Concordia University