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This study investigates two factors hypothesised as relevant to obsessional problems because of the way in which they influence decisions whether or not to act to prevent harm. These are (i) the way in which intrusive thoughts increase the internal awareness of harm, and confront the person with the possibility of taking action to prevent such harm and (ii) the extent to which there is some obvious external factor which increases awareness of the possibility of preventing harm. Obsessional patients, anxious and non-clinical controls completed a scale which systematically measured these factors across a wide range of situations. Results across all situations evaluated confirmed previous findings that both obsessionals and nonobsessionals were more likely to report acting to prevent harm when awareness of it is prompted by an intrusion than when it is not. It was also found that participants in all groups acted more 'obsessionally' when a scenario is described in ways which suggest that harm may be by 'commission' than when it is described in terms of an 'omission'. When scenarios about which each individual is most disturbed were analysed, anxious and non-clinical controls continued to differentially rate omission and commission situations; as predicted, this differential was not present for obsessional patients. It is concluded that obsessionals are more sensitive to omission than are nonobsessionals when considering scenarios about which they are concerned, and that this sensitivity is one factor influencing the decision whether to act to prevent harm.


Journal article


Behav Res Ther

Publication Date





1141 - 1162


Adult, Analysis of Variance, Anxiety Disorders, Attitude, Avoidance Learning, Case-Control Studies, Female, Humans, Male, Middle Aged, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Psychiatric Status Rating Scales, Surveys and Questionnaires