The Interplay Between Action and Confidence in OCD

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) affects millions of people around the world and is characterized by obsessions (recurring, unwanted thoughts) and compulsions (rituals). For many with this disorder, compulsions such as cleaning, hoarding, repeatedly checking, counting, and other repetitive behaviors are distressing and can greatly interfere with daily life. Those with OCD typically cannot control their thoughts, but their compulsions are done in an attempt to ameliorate their condition – oftentimes exacerbating their symptoms. One domain often contemplated with OCD is the relation between action and confidence – for instance, with “checking” compulsions, does a person’s confidence level (such as being unsure that the door is locked) interfere with the action they take (checking the lock on the door) and how many times they do it?

As emphasized by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), symptoms of OCD can lessen or worsen over time. They can derive from one’s genetic susceptibility, one’s environment, one’s brain structure and functioning, or a mixture of these. A 2017 study published in the journal Neuron sought to explore the very question that we address here – are confidence and action related when it comes to OCD? Researchers from the UK analyzed 24 patients with OCD and 25 patients clinically healthy (to serve as a comparison group). Participants were asked to complete a series of activities, each requiring their use of confidence to ensure the accuracy of their action while other noises or distractions were taking place. From there, the researchers analyzed the difference in their behavioral patterns.

Results from the study indicated that those with OCD didn’t always act on their confidence – despite having known what worked well in an activity, some participants adjusted their behavior anyways. In fact, those with OCD showed exaggerated behavioral pattern changes within the activities – meaning that while action and confidence aren’t always necessarily connected, they can have an impact. Furthermore, the researchers found that the greater the difference between confidence and action, the greater the severity of a person’s OCD symptoms – meaning that if you feel less confident in your behaviors, you’re likely to take more corrective action – which can perpetuate the OCD cycle.

If you haven’t already, speak with a professional from a reputable treatment center about your options for treatment. Recovery is possible, and often includes medication, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and more. Seek the help you need today.

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