New Research Suggests Compulsions at the Root of OCD

New research appears to confirm what cognitive behavioral therapists have emphasized, that compulsive behavior is the monumental force in people with obsessive compulsive patterns. A recent study examined the behaviors of 40 test subjects in a task that involved habitual behaviors and outcomes. The participants, half of whom had obsessive-compulsive tendencies, were able to win points based on their response to various stimuli. The researchers, led by Claire Gillan and Trevor Robbins at the University of Cambridge MRC/Wellcome Trust Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience Institute and Sanne de Wit at the University of Amsterdam, discovered that the participants with obsessions and compulsions displayed habitual behavior, continuing to engage in the behavior regardless of whether it resulted in a negative or positive outcomes. Because this habitual or compulsive behavior was developed and assessed in a laboratory setting, without any correlating obsessions, researchers are led to believe that the compulsion is the main component of obsessive-compulsive behavior.

This research gives clues as to how the compulsions develop and suggest that the obsessive thoughts are the mind’s response to the compulsive behaviors. These findings could allow for more targeted interventions and better treatment options for this mental health challenge. Ultimately, therapists and clients find that the behavior is not related to the thought, and when the behavior is stopped, the obsessive thoughts go away. “It has long been established that humans have a tendency to ‘fill in the gaps’ when it comes to behavior that cannot otherwise be logically explained,” said Gillan. “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.”

© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Gamecockfan96


    May 28th, 2011 at 3:39 AM

    Are you suggesting that OCD is nothing more than bad habits gone awry? I would think that there are a lot of people in the mental health field who would not agree.

  • Mack K.

    Mack K.

    May 28th, 2011 at 8:05 PM

    I think being OCD would be a very stressful way to live. It’s good to see the pieces of the puzzle coming together and more connections coming to light as more research on OCD emerges.

    This is a total reversal of the old thinking, is it not? It will be interesting to see what transpires from further OCD research and if that study can be duplicated.

  • James


    May 29th, 2011 at 5:23 AM

    I would be evry curious to learn if the reserach team feels that this is something that is inherent from birth or if the compulsions are nurtured and created. That would be an interesting theory to pursue.

  • Chase Grimes

    Chase Grimes

    May 29th, 2011 at 9:29 PM

    It’s such a fascinating condition and yet still so little is truly understood about OCD. This research is turning common thinking on its head!

    So now we look for the compulsive actions before the thoughts rather than vice versa?

  • Peter


    May 29th, 2011 at 11:54 PM

    So if people with OCD continue to do something irrespective of whether the result is going to be good or bad, does it not mean that they have lost the ability to actually guage things and their effects?

    If so, it sure is a very nasty thing to happen to someone and I just hope there are better treatments for OCD.

  • George


    May 30th, 2011 at 6:07 AM

    The development of compulsions is kind of interesting. You have to know that there is something kind of off there when someone gets to the point that they cannot focus on anything but that compulsion.



    May 31st, 2011 at 4:53 AM

    Force a kid to do the things that you want to do and he will feel the compulsion. Now imagine a scenario where a parent is misusing his authority by compelling the child to go about things as he commands. This will fuel compulsive feelings in the child and we all know how much of an effect childhood things can have mentally.

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Title   Content   Author is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, medical treatment, or therapy. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding any mental health symptom or medical condition. Never disregard professional psychological or medical advice nor delay in seeking professional advice or treatment because of something you have read on