The fear of losing control and its role in anxiety disorders

December 13, 2017, Concordia University
The fear of losing control and its role in anxiety disorders
Credit: Concordia University

Did you lock the front door? Did you double-check? Are you sure?

If this sounds familiar, perhaps you can relate to people with (OCD).

Help may be on the way. New Concordia research sheds light on how the fear of losing over thoughts and actions impacts OCD-related behaviour, including checking.

Although more traditional types of fear—think snakes, spiders, dogs, etc.—have been well investigated, this is one of the few studies to focus primarily on the fear of losing control.

"We've shown that people who believe they're going to lose control are significantly more likely to exhibit checking behaviour with greater frequency," says Adam Radomsky, a psychology researcher in the Faculty of Arts and Science.

"So, when we treat OCD in the clinic, we can try to reduce their beliefs about losing control and that should reduce their symptoms."

The study

Radomsky's findings were published this October in the Journal of Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders, co-authored with PhD student Jean-Philippe Gagné.

It's the first in a series of related projects Radomsky is undertaking, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

"The 133 undergraduate students who participated were given bogus EEGs. They were randomly assigned false feedback that they were either at low or high risk of losing control over their thoughts and actions," explains Radomsky, Concordia University Research Chair in Anxiety and Related Disorders.

Next, participants were given a computerized task—trying to control the flow of images on a screen by using a sequence of key commands. At any time, they could push the space bar to check or confirm the key sequence.

Those who were led to believe that their risk of losing control was higher engaged in far more checking than those who were led to believe that the risk was low.

'Something we can treat'

Surprisingly, the students who participated in the study did not self-identify as having OCD.

"If you can show that by leading people to believe they might be at risk of losing control, symptoms start to show themselves, then it can tell us something about what might be behind those symptoms in people who do struggle with the problem," Radomsky says.

"This gives us something we can try to treat."

The findings were consistent with what he and Gagné expected.

"We hypothesize that people's fears and beliefs about losing control may put them at risk for a range of problems, including panic disorder, social phobia, OCD, , and others," Radomsky adds.

"This work has the potential to vastly improve our ability to understand and treat the full range of anxiety-related problems."

Explore further: The surprising truth about obsessive-compulsive thinking

More information: Jean-Philippe Gagné et al. Manipulating beliefs about losing control causes checking behaviour, Journal of Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders (2017). DOI: 10.1016/j.jocrd.2017.08.013

Related Stories

The surprising truth about obsessive-compulsive thinking

April 8, 2014
People who check whether their hands are clean or imagine their house might be on fire are not alone. New research from Concordia University and 15 other universities worldwide shows that 94 per cent of people experience ...

Overcoming obsessive-compulsive disorder: Researcher pioneers treatment that tackles sufferers' fears and doubts

April 10, 2012
Did I remember to lock the back door? Did I turn off the stove? Were the lights still on when I left the house this morning? Such minor doubts are part our daily mental chatter. But for the over 650,000 Canadians who suffer ...

How to calm an anxious mind

May 18, 2016
Anxiety disorders and related problems such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are among the most common mental health conditions. At least one in four Canadians will have an anxiety disorder in their lifetime.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder questionnaire may give clues to other mental health problems

May 13, 2014
A shortened version of a questionnaire used by psychologists to assess risk factors for obsessive-compulsive disorder also may help determine the risk of depression and anxiety, according to a Baylor University study.

Low attention control in early adolescence is a genetic risk factor for anxiety disorders

June 20, 2016
University of Texas at Arlington researchers have found that low attention control in early adolescence is related to a genetic risk factor for four different anxiety disorders. Young teens who suffer from anxiety are also ...

Study examines brain activity and anxiety symptoms in youth with autism spectrum disorder

December 6, 2017
The error-related negativity (ERN) is a brain signal response to errors that is thought to reflect threat sensitivity and has been implicated in anxiety disorders in individuals without autism spectrum disorder (ASD). A new ...

Recommended for you

Clues that suggest people are lying may be deceptive, study shows

October 12, 2018
The verbal and physical signs of lying are harder to detect than people believe, a study suggests.

How to avoid raising a materialistic child

October 12, 2018
If you're a parent, you may be concerned that materialism among children has been on the rise. According to research, materialism has been linked to a variety of mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression, as ...

The long-term effects of maternal high-fat diets

October 12, 2018
If a mother eats a high-fat diet, this can have a negative effect on the health of her offspring—right down to her great-grandchildren. This is the conclusion drawn by researchers at ETH Zurich from a study with mice.

Study finds orgasm face and pain face are not the same

October 11, 2018
A team of researchers from the UK and Spain has found evidence showing that contrary to popular belief, the orgasm face is not the same as the pain face. In their paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of ...

Nice people finish last when it comes to money

October 11, 2018
Nice people may be at greater risk of bankruptcy and other financial hardships compared with their less agreeable peers, not because they are more cooperative, but because they don't value money as much, according to research ...

Study identifies effective ketamine doses for treatment-resistant depression

October 11, 2018
A study led by Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) investigators identifies two subanesthetic dosage levels of the anesthetic drug ketamine that appear to provide significant symptom relief to patients with treatment-resistant ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.