A sight for sore eyes? Attention allocation to obsession-provoking stimuli and stimuli reflecting compulsion completion

Dana Basel, Amit Lazarov*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Research on attention allocation in OCD has exclusively used obsession-provoking threat stimuli, showing sustained attention over neutral ones. Recently, however, a study contrasting neutral stimuli with stimuli depicting the completion of compulsive acts (end-states stimuli), which is associated with a reduced anxiety (negative reinforcement), showed similar results. Yet, as relative to neutral stimuli end-state stimuli were also OCD-related, these results may still reflect obsession-related distress rather than relief brought on by stimuli signaling compulsion completion. Also, end-states stimuli were not systematically validated. In Study 1, participants rated the subjective discomfort experienced when viewing traditional obsession-provoking threat pictures and novel end-states pictures. We first compared participants with high (HOC) and low (LOC) levels of obsessive-compulsive symptoms, and then clinically diagnosed OCD participants and matched healthy controls. In study 2, we compared gaze patterns of HOC and LOC participants while freely viewing 2-by-2 matrices directly contrasting two threat and two end-state stimuli. Study 1 showed a larger difference in experienced discomfort when viewing the end-state stimuli, compared to threat stimuli, for both OC groups compared with their respected control groups. Study 2 showed that while LOC participants demonstrated no difference in dwell time on threat vs. end-state pictures, the HOC group allocated more attention toward the latter. Both groups were more prone to fixate first the threat pictures. Task reliability was high. Attention allocation in OCD may also be affected by cues signaling the completion of compulsive acts.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)51-65
Number of pages15
JournalMotivation and Emotion
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2024


  • Compulsions
  • Eye-tracking
  • Obsessions
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder, attention allocation


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