OCD Triggers Runaway Fear Response, Study Finds

by on April 11th, 2012 at 8:29 am

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Canadian scientists have learned that a key factor in obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) prevents patients from stopping certain compulsive behaviors.1

This discovery was recently documented in a study entitled, When Too Much Is Not Enough: Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder as a Pathology of Stopping, Rather Than Starting.

Scientists from McMaster University and the University of Waterloo found that patients with OCD were unable to eliminate the feeling of danger after being exposed to contaminants.

“The results of these experiments show that OCD reflects impairment in the ability of security-related behavior to terminate motivation evoked by potential danger, rather than a heightened sensitivity to potential threat,” scientists reported in the published findings.

In the study, Andrea L. Hinds and four scientific colleagues tested fifty-seven OCD patients with washing compulsions and fifty-seven non-patients who comprised a control group.

According to the scientists, the heart rate of each participant was monitored with electrodes as he or she reached in to a bin and touched either Styrofoam; clean, dry diapers; or wet diapers.

Both the OCD group and the control group showed similar changes in heart rate after touching the diapers, but patients from the OCD group couldn’t eliminate the feeling of contamination after extensive hand washing.

“… even though the OCD patients washed much longer than controls … their level of satisfaction with their hand-washing remained significantly lower than that of the controls,” the scientists reported in the study.

In other words, the OCD patients couldn’t find a way to feel clean.

The inability of people with OCD to stop engaging in fear-induced behavior may provide helpful clues for eliminating this behavior, say the scientists, who add that stopping such behavior has already become part of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).

CBT shows people how thoughts influence behavior and how to change their behavior, according to the National Association of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapists.

So, by understanding that compulsive hand washing is caused by fear of contamination, OCD patients can work on minimizing or eliminating that fear.

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  1. Andrea L. Hinds et al, “When Too Much Is Not Enough: Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder as a Pathology of Stopping, Rather than Starting,” PLos One.

4 Responses to “OCD Triggers Runaway Fear Response, Study Finds”

  1. sandy roth

    May 10th, 2012

    what brings about the fear and panic component

    • G. Bossik

      May 11th, 2012

      Hi, Sandy.

      In OCD, fear and panic are brought about by the constant repetition of thoughts.
      The repeating thoughts create anxiety that builds into panic when the thoughts don’t

      That’s the reason for the compulsions. They’re done to try to alleviate anxiety and fear.

      Fortunately, cognitive behavioral therapy has proven to be successful in helping OCD
      patients cope with obsessions and compulsions.


  2. Lucy

    May 12th, 2012

    It seems to me that deep inside is a great fear and behind that distrust on everyone including the Self, and lack of faith. Where does that come from? Perhaps big traumas from the past, extreme sensibility. I have found that more than CBT, EFT, imagery therapy, prayer, spirituality is helping somebody I know by restoring trust in the Self, love, stop judgement, and getting stronger emotionally.

  3. hypo

    May 15th, 2012

    Hypoglycemia is a huge trigger in ocd which is one of my ills. Don;t forget a glucose tolerence test can be normal they don’t test the insulin levels which can be high.
    I suffer from autoimmune thyroiditis and when my hormones are not quite right I start with problems of an obsessive nature together with anxiety. Prayer is wonderful for a while and God helps me through horrendous things, but don’t be fooled by the talking therapy etc. You will be pushing out extra adrenalin and other hormones for physiological reasons besides just your ‘thoughts’.

    Bless all with this devastating problem and good health to you.

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