Study shows 2016 election triggered obsessive-compulsive-like symptoms in some individuals

April 11, 2018 by Julia Bernstein, Baylor College of Medicine
Credit: Karen Arnold/public domain

Since the 2016 U.S. presidential election many people have experienced an increase in symptoms of stress and anxiety, and researchers from Baylor College of Medicine have discovered that some of those symptoms resemble characteristics of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). In a study published in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders, researchers found that some individuals are having politically focused intrusive thoughts and associated ritualistic behaviors due to political stressors.

"The idea for our study came about while I was taking a break from a group project. During the break, everyone pulled out their phones and started checking their respective news source. I commented on this and people responded saying that since the election, they were checking different news outlets on an excessive basis and were experiencing significantly more intrusive thoughts related to politics then they had prior," said principal investigator Dr. Eric Storch, professor and head of psychology in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Baylor.

Participants for the study were recruited through Amazon's Mechanical Turk, a crowdsourcing platform. For this study, Storch and his team created a survey that included several questionnaires and other tools that participants filled out. These included:

  • Measures of politically focused intrusive thoughts and ritualistic behaviors
  • A questionnaire regarding general obsessive-compulsive symptoms
  • A depression, anxiety and stress scale
  • A questionnaire designed to assess the degree of agreement with statements related to worrying
  • A questionnaire designed to assess someone's ability to control their anxiety
  • A that measures the level of impairment experienced due to the symptoms of interest across three domains: social, occupational and family functioning
  • A Psychopathic Personality Inventory Deviant Responding Subscale, which is a validity measure that is used to assess random or careless responses
  • A measure of social and economic conservative affiliation

Data was collected from 483 participants over a period of four weeks.

Researchers found that approximately 18 percent of people were experiencing high politically focused intrusive thoughts and associated ritualistic behaviors.

"Many of the participants reported that they were repeatedly checking news sites and social media for political updates, and they were concerned about terrible things happening to the U.S. given the politics," Storch said.

These behaviors were associated with a fairly high level of distress so individuals who were experiencing these politically intrusive thoughts also were reporting higher levels of depression and anxiety and different types of OCD-like , Storch said.

He added that whether an individual voted for the Republican candidate or the Democratic candidate did not matter. Individuals were affected regardless of their political orientation.

"Although politically intrusive thoughts and behaviors are similar to characteristics we see with OCD, essentially this may be its own disorder," said first author Sandra Cepeda, research coordinator in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. "Moving forward, I think it would be interesting to look at what's happening on a global scale and what other types of political events might cause these symptoms to come up."

Explore further: Expert discusses the common misconceptions about obsessive compulsive disorder

Related Stories

Expert discusses the common misconceptions about obsessive compulsive disorder

June 28, 2017
While most people have heard of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), there are many misconceptions about what it truly means to have it. A Baylor College of Medicine expert discusses these common misconceptions and gives ...

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.

People who go to bed late have less control over OCD symptoms

June 20, 2017
A late bedtime is associated with lower perceived control of obsessive thoughts, according to new research from Binghamton University, State University of New York.

People who sleep less than eight hours a night more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety

January 4, 2018
Sleeping less than the recommended eight hours a night is associated with intrusive, repetitive thoughts like those seen in anxiety or depression, according to new research from Binghamton University, State University of ...

The fear of losing control and its role in anxiety disorders

December 13, 2017
Did you lock the front door? Did you double-check? Are you sure?

Mild obsessive-compulsive symptoms in healthy children are linked with cerebral changes

December 20, 2017
A new study carried out by the Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBELL) and the Institute of Global Health of Barcelona (ISGlobal) associates first-time mild obsessive-compulsive symptoms to characteristics and specific ...

Recommended for you

Research reveals stronger people have healthier brains

April 19, 2018
A study of nearly half a million people has revealed that muscular strength, measured by handgrip, is an indication of how healthy our brains are.

Overcoming bias about music takes work

April 18, 2018
Expectations and biases play a large role in our experiences. This has been demonstrated in studies involving art, wine and even soda. In 2007, Joshua Bell, an internationally acclaimed musician, illustrated the role context ...

Study suggests we can recognize speakers only from how faces move when talking

April 18, 2018
Results of a new study by cognitive psychologist and speech scientist Alexandra Jesse and her linguistics undergraduate student Michael Bartoli at the University of Massachusetts Amherst should help to settle a long-standing ...

Scientists disconfirm belief that humans' physiological reaction to emotions are uniform

April 18, 2018
How do you feel when you're angry? Tense? Jittery? Exhausted? Is it the same every time? Is it identical to how your best friend, co-worker, or barista feel when they experience anger? In all likelihood the answer is no, ...

How mental health diagnosis should be more collaborative

April 18, 2018
Mental health diagnosis should be a collaborative and useful process, not a meaningless label - according to new research from Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) and the University of East Anglia.

Does pot really dull a teen's brain?

April 18, 2018
Pot-smoking teens may not be dooming themselves to a destiny of dim-wittedness, a new review suggests.


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.