Researcher Adam Radomski said: “We demonstrated that people who believe they are about to lose control are at higher risk of developing the behavior of rechecking themselves constantly and most frequently.”
With these findings the researchers hope to find more effective ways to combat OCD and other anxiety disorders. “When we treat OCD in the clinic we can minimize the patient’s belief that he is losing control and this will reduce his symptoms,” says Adam.
133 students were part of the study done by Adam and his fellow researcher Jean-Phillipe Gagné. They had similar demographics and all underwent EEG brain activity monitoring. “The EEGs were bogus. Students were randomly assigned false feedback that they were either at low or high risk of losing control over their thoughts and actions,” says Adam.
The next step was when participants were given a task to master on the computer. They had to try controlling 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. The students who were led to believe they were at higher risk of losing control did far more checking and rechecking than those who were led to believe they were low risk.
The icing on the cake was that none of the student previously had any history of OCD. This is what the researchers were looking for.
Adam explained: “If you can show that by convincing people they might be at risk of losing control, symptoms start to show themselves, then it can tell us what might be behind those symptoms in people who do struggle with the problem. This gives us an approach to OCD treatment.”
“We hypothesize that when people fear and believe they are losing control they are at higher risk for a range of problems, including panic disorder, social phobia, OCD, post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder and others. This work has the potential to vastly improve our ability to understand and treat the full range of anxiety-related problems,” Adam concludes.