Washing Hands University Logo The exact cause of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) may be obsessive fears. But if this piece of information is to be believed, then OCD is caused by compulsions. This disorder appears to be the brain’s way of justifying certain behaviors like repetitive hand-washing. The study findings apparently aid in understanding how the debilitating repetitive behavior of OCD develops and could lead to more effective treatments and preventative measures for the disorder.

This study included a total of 20 patients suffering from the disorder and 20 control subjects without OCD. The study subjects were made to complete a task that looked at the tendency to develop habit-like behavior. Participants had to learn simple associations between stimuli, behaviors and outcomes to win points on a task.

“It has long been established that humans have a tendency to ‘fill in the gaps’ when it comes to behaviour that cannot otherwise be logically explained,” explained Claire Gillan, a PhD student at the University of Cambridge. “In the case of OCD, the overwhelming urge to senselessly repeat a behavior might be enough to instill a very real obsessive fear in order to explain it.”

On completion of the task, it was asserted that patients suffering from the disorder had a tendency to continue to respond regardless of whether or not their behavior produced a desirable outcome. So this form of behavior appeared habitual among OCD patients. Such people can possibly benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). In this therapy, a method known as ‘exposure and response prevention’ may be applied to challenging patients to discontinue compulsive responding and learn that the feared consequence does not occur.

The study was published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.