OCD: ritual and routine provide a sense of control


Is obsessive compulsive disorder actually driven by a need for control and the reduction of stress that it provides? In a study out of Tel Aviv University, researchers have suggested that ritual and routine like that of OCD may in fact be a stress reducer.

Rituals evolved to address uncontrollable world

Prof. David Eilam and his graduate student Hila Kere of TAU’s Department of Zoology concluded that ritualistic behavior in both humans and animals has developed as a way to create calm and manage stress caused by the unpredictability and uncontrollability of our world. Participating in these behaviors gives people and animals a sense of control where no control may exist.

Preparatory, functional and confirmatory behaviors

For the study, researchers observed people participating in all kinds of actions looking for preparatory, functional and confirmatory behaviors. Preparatory actions get ready for the task, functional makes the task happen and confirmatory is the follow through. For instance, they observed the basketball player who bounces the ball exactly six times prior to making a free throw.

Routine provides concentration and control

“The routine they perform in the moments before shooting the ball is a method to focus their full concentration and control their actions,” said Prof. Eliam. Many athletes feel they need these rituals. These preparatory actions are exaggerated in OCD sufferers who might check and recheck the cleanliness of a surface or the power on the coffee maker. Essentially, it is no different than the sports routine of the professional athlete.

For OCD, the routine is unresolved

Of course, everyone may have repetitive behavior, but not everyone is obsessive. Most OCD sufferers experience their ritual around the confirmatory behavior meaning they are trying to gain a sense of completeness from the activity, a kind of verification. Since there is no clear ending, the ritual goes on.

Source: ScienceDaily.com, American Friends of Tel Aviv University

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