11:32pm Monday 21 October 2019

Do people with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder have ‘sticky brains’?

People with OCD experience repetitive and uncontrollable thoughts, images or fears which generate severe distress, commonly anxiety or guilt. They cope with their distress by performing repetitive compulsive behaviours or thought rituals. Common obsessions include a fear of dirt or contamination, fear of harming another or being responsible for something terrible happening. Common compulsions include washing and cleaning, checking, counting, ordering, and hoarding.

To the observer, these symptoms are meaningless, excessive, and sometimes bizarre. However, to the sufferer the time-consuming rituals are often experienced as a better option than to endure the severe distress and/or crippling doubt associated with the disorder.

The popular movie, As Good as It Gets, where Jack Nicholson plays an OCD sufferer has served to enhance community awareness of the fear and anguish experienced by OCD sufferers.

A group of researchers at the University of Wollongong are endeavouring to unravel the enigma that is OCD and are hoping to ensure that OCD sufferers may aspire to a life-style that is better than the-‘good-as-it-gets’ scenario. Led by Associate Professor Craig Gonsalvez at the School of Psychology, the research team has conducted a series of studies including a recent study that examined brain potentials among people with OCD.

The results from international and the group’s own studies have led the researchers to believe that the brains of OCD sufferers may function differently.

“In effect, people with OCD may have ‘sticky brains’ that greatly increase their potential to lock on to thoughts, images, or doubts, and also have a reduced capacity to ‘unglue’ these thoughts and fears once these stimuli are locked in. They describe these twin brain mechanisms as facilitation (the glue) and inhibition (the unglue mechanism).,”according to PhD student and research team member Christen Elks.

The group is currently conducting further research to corroborate and extend these findings and have designed a set of computer tasks to examine facilitation and inhibition mechanisms, among OCD sufferers, anxious people who do not have OCD, and people without anxiety or OCD.

The overall research is being conducted by Ms Elks as part of her doctoral degree in clinical psychology.

The group is inviting individuals who have (a) Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or (b) anxiety but not OCD, or (c) have neither OCD nor anxiety, to volunteer to participate in the study. Participants must be between the ages of 18 to 65 and be able to speak and read English. Eligible participants will receive $30 for completing computer tasks and questionnaires that will take around 90 minutes. Partners or friends of OCD sufferers are especially invited to participate as a non-OCD control sample.

People interested in participating in the study should contact Christen Elks (mobile 0414 606 420 or cae27@uow.edu.au) for more information.

Media can also contact Christen on the number listed above or Associate Professor Craig Gonsalvez on 4221 3674.

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