Thoughts as Unexpected Intruders: Context, Obsessive-Compulsive Symptoms, and the Sense of Agency Over Thoughts

Isaac Fradkin*, Baruch Eitam, Asher Y. Strauss, Jonathan D. Huppert

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations

Abstract

Obsessions are commonly described as intrusive, ego-dystonic, and coming out of nowhere. This might reflect an experience of a low sense of agency (SoA; i.e., the experience of being the source of one’s own thoughts). In this study, we investigated the relationship between obsessive-compulsive (OC) symptoms and the SoA over thoughts. Participants were told that subliminal auditory primes (actually sham) can insert thoughts into their minds, and their experiences of inserted thoughts were collected online. The results of three experiments showed reduced SoA over thoughts in individuals with subclinical OC symptoms, regardless of the valence of the thoughts. Several potential confounding factors (e.g., suppression, vigilance, general anxiety) were ruled out. The experience of inserted thoughts was related to experiencing thoughts as “out of context,” which partially explained reduced SoA in participants with high levels of OC symptoms. These experiments highlight the importance of focusing on the low-level, contextual, and phenomenological characteristics of intrusive thoughts in addition to their content and appraisals.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)162-180
Number of pages19
JournalClinical Psychological Science
Volume7
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2018.

Keywords

  • context
  • inserted thoughts
  • intrusive thoughts
  • obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • open data
  • sense of agency

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