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Repetitive behavior reduces anxiety


In a new study researchers have found that repetitive behavior in general, especially ritualistic behavior, is not only a human phenomenon but also a behavior that animals employ. The researchers concluded that ritualistic behavior in both humans and animals developed as a way to create calm and manage stress created by situations which seem out of our control.

Almost every activity divides into three parts: preparatory, functional and confirmatory. The functional aspect is the specific action that must occur in order to complete a task. Preparatory and cconfirmatory actions are not strictly required to get the job done. They are done before and after the functional activity but are not related to its completion. These are the rituals.

Professor David Eilam of Tel Aviv University’s Department of Zoology watched and analyzed people doing a number of routine activities like getting dressed, locking a car or making coffee. They also watched basketball players make free throws. Here the functional activity is the throwing of the ball through the hoop. The bouncing that goes on before is ritual as is any celebratory behaviors which follow.

“The routine they perform in the moments before shooting the ball is a method to focus their full concentration and control their actions,” Prof. Eilam says. It is an essential part of the player’s psychology. These activities tend to be exaggerated in the OCD sufferer who might check and recheck whether the stove has been turned off. Rituals are like fingerprints: unique to each individual.

OCD sufferers have a feeling of incompleteness that comes at the end of a task. They are unfulfilled by their actions and so repeat them. Compulsive behavior is driven by a need to verify the action. This is a difference between normal and pathological rituals. Each gives the person a sense of security, but for the OCD sufferer, there is no sense of fully completed action.

Source: MedicalNewsToday, Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews

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