Psychological Explanations of OCD

Summary of psychological explanations of OCD, with pictures and colour coded:

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Psychological Explanations of OCD
Behavioural Approach
1. A neutral stimulus becomes associated with anxiety through classical conditioning
2. The anxiety associated with this stimulus is maintained by avoiding
the negative event, providing negative reinforcement
1. Rituals are learned to reduce the anxiety caused by the obsession
2. Ritual is reinforced due to immediate relief
3. This may become linked to changing the feared situation
4. Ritual may be compulsively acted when faced with the thoughts or
situations that make them anxious
Support OCD gets worse over time, which can be explained through the
Support Behavioural therapies are effective, demonstrating OCD is behavioural
Therapies combined with cognitive therapy are more effective, suggesting
OCD has a cognitive element involved.
Therefore the behavioural approach to OCD is reductionist, as it ignores other
possible contributing factors, despite evidence suggesting cognitive and biological factors
involved. Consequently any treatments for OCD based on the behavioural approach may be
Is OCD due to upbringing (learned behavior) or our biology (genes/neurotransmitters)
Study concluded that people with OCD may simply be more prone to conditioning
Methodological Issues - a lot of research, like the one above, uses participants who are
`OCD-like' (haven't been diagnosed with OCD but have more obsessions and/or compulsions
than `normal' people)
So any conclusions may not be appropriate to generalize to understand the causes of OCD, as
the participants used do not reflect the behavior or an individual who truly does have OCD.
Cognitive Approach

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People with OCD seem to have different thinking patterns
1. They believe they have greater control over the world
If they perform a certain action, it may prevent an event
If things don't go as planned, i.e. they lose control, they become anxious
2. They have more intrusive thoughts (conclusion of a study)
- While others can dismiss these thoughts, someone with OCD does not know
how to handle them
3. Behaviour reduces anxiety
- But the thought returns as it hasn't been dealt with.…read more


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