Academic journal article Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy

Etiology of Obsessive Beliefs: A Behavioral-Genetic Analysis

Academic journal article Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy

Etiology of Obsessive Beliefs: A Behavioral-Genetic Analysis

Article excerpt

Contemporary cognitive models of obsessive-compulsive disorder, derived from Beck's cognitive approach to emotional disorders, emphasize the importance of particular dysfunctional beliefs in giving rise to obsessive-compulsive (OC) symptoms. These beliefs represent three factor-analytically distinct domains: (a) The overimportance of one's thoughts and the need to control these thoughts; (b) perfectionism and the intolerance of uncertainty; and (c) inflated personal responsibility and the overestimation of threat. The models suggest that these beliefs arise from environmental factors, such as exposure to particular forms of learning. To test this assumption, we conducted a behavioral-genetic analysis of scores on these dysfunctional beliefs from a community sample of 167 monozygotic and 140 dizygotic twin pairs. Results indicated that the beliefs are significantly heritable, with genetic factors accounting for 32% to 40% of the variance in scores. Over two-thirds of the variance in scores for the three types of beliefs was attributable to a set of genetic and environmental factors that influenced all of these beliefs. Results suggest that contemporary cognitive models require revision, because they erroneously attribute the development of OC-related dysfunctional beliefs entirely to environmental factors.

Keywords : obsessions ; compulsions ; obsessive-compulsive disorder ; dysfunctional beliefs ; Obsessive Beliefs Questionnaire ; behavioral genetics

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is characterized by clinically significant obsessions, compulsions, or both ( American Psychiatric Association, 2000 ). Obsessions are unwanted and distressing thoughts, images, or urges. Compulsions are repetitive behaviors or mental acts that the person feels compelled to perform, usually with a desire to resist. Obsessions and compulsions of insufficient severity to warrant a diagnosis of OCD are also common in the general population ( Gibbs, 1996 ). These "nonclinical" OC symptoms, compared to obsessions and compulsions in people diagnosed with OCD, tend to be less frequent, shorter in duration, and associated with less distress. However, nonclinical OC symptoms have similar form and content to obsessions and compulsions found in OCD ( Gibbs, 1996 ). Given the similarity of clinical and nonclinical OC symptoms, contemporary cognitive models of OCD (e.g., Clark, 2004 ; Frost & Steketee, 2002 ; Salkovskis, 1996 ) have attempted to explain the causes of clinical and nonclinical OC phenomena. Similar mechanisms have been proposed for both; consequently, studies of nonclinical samples, such as the present study, are relevant for understanding OCD.

The leading contemporary cognitive models of OCD ( Clark, 2004 ; Frost & Steketee, 2002 ; Salkovskis, 1996 ) were derived from Beck's (1976) cognitive approach to conceptualizing emotional disorder. The OCD models propose that OC symptoms arise from particular kinds of dysfunctional beliefs, whereby the strength of belief influences the development, severity, and persistence of symptoms. Factor analytic research suggests that there are three main dimensions of dysfunctional beliefs that have been conceptually and empirically associated with OC symptoms: (a) overimportance of thoughts and the need to control thoughts (ICT), (b) perfectionism and the intolerance of uncertainty (PC), and (c) inflated responsibility and the overestimation of threat (RT; Taylor et al., 2009 ). ICT entails the belief that the mere presence of a thought indicates that it is significant, along with the belief that complete control over one's thoughts is both necessary and possible. PC involves the belief that mistakes and imperfection are intolerable, and the belief that it is necessary and possible to be completely certain that negative events will not occur. RT includes the belief that aversive events are quite likely to occur and that one has the duty to prevent such events. Empirical research offers some support for the view that these dysfunctional beliefs contribute to OC symptoms ( Taylor, Abramowitz, McKay, & Cuttler, in press ; Taylor et al. …

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