In the wake of a possible mistake: Security motivation, checking behavior, and OCD
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BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVES: In previous experiments, OCD washers did not differ significantly from controls in their initial level of activation in response to the potential threat of contamination; however, they were less able to reduce their activation by engaging in hand-washing, suggesting that the key problem in OCD is a faulty stopping mechanism. The main objectives of the present experiments were to develop a similar experimental paradigm for investigating checking behavior, and to use it to test the hypothesis that a faulty stopping mechanism also underlies OCD checking. METHODS: Participants sorted pills under the guise of beta testing a new medication system and then were given suggestions of the possibility of having made mistakes with potentially serious consequences. Later, participants engaged in a 90-s checking period and an unlimited period of checking. At baseline and three other times during the experiment, security motivation was measured with respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) and subjective ratings of confidence. Experiment 1 established the parameters of the paradigm in non-patient participants, and Experiment 2 contrasted OCD checkers with OCD washers and non-patients. RESULTS: Results for both subjective and physiological measures of security motivation closely replicated previous findings for washing behavior. Groups did not differ significantly in initial activation, but the OCD checkers were unable to reduce their activation by engaging in period of checking that was ample for returning controls to baseline. LIMITATIONS: The sample size for the patient groups was modest. CONCLUSIONS: These results lend further support to the security-motivation theory of OCD.
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