Major breakthrough sees OCD linked to guilt

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The cycle of negative thinking encountered by people who suffer with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) has seen a major breakthrough. Scientists have discovered that the section of the brain associated with guilt feelings is very active in those suffering with OCD.

These findings could lead to new treatment methods for this disorder.

One of the main characteristics of OCD is the belief that negative thoughts will turn into reality. This leads to an accumulation of guilt and anxiety.

It is estimated that about 12 in every 1000 people in Britain is affected by the disorder.

The study observed the brain wave patterns in people suffering with varying degrees of symptoms related to OCD.

Scientists from the University of Winchester and Goldsmiths College London discovered that feelings linked to guilt and anxiety prompted increased activity in a section of the brain called the precuneus. Previous research has linked this area of the brain to the processing of responsibility, self-attribution, causal reasoning, as well as ‘moral transgression’ guilt.

It has been found that psychopaths, who do not have a sense of guilt, have a small precuneus.

Professor Joydeep Bhattacharya, from Goldsmiths, said those who suffer from OCD experience more anxiety and guilt from the thoughts that most of us endure at some point in our lives. An example of this is that they may imagine someone close to them dying in a car accident and start believing that this imagination may increase the chances of the event really happening. Once these thoughts are in place, they start feeling guilty and have to try and suppress the thoughts. This usually fails and they enter a vicious cycle.

Many sufferers state that they are unable to stop images and thoughts from entering their minds.

This disorder is often shown by repetitive, obsessive behaviour which targets the reduction of anxiety.

Some of the forms of the disorder that are least disabling can add at least one extra hour to the sufferer’s daily routine, which interferes with their daily life and causes distress. Some sufferers are so badly affected that they are unable to leave their home.

The study found that those who suffered more extreme symptoms of the disorder indicated greater precuneus activity. This activity is increased if there was more ‘thought-action fusion’, or the belief that a negative situation will indeed become reality.

The co-author from Winchester University, Dr Rhiannon Jones, said that their findings could prove to be a huge step towards effective treatment of OCD. She said their next step would be to make use of methods of brain stimulation to try and modify thought-action fusion. It will offer them the opportunity to confirm the causal role related to the neural findings and possibly find a method of reduction of the harmful thought processes.

Image Credit: Benjamin Watson

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