The construal of hand washing by OCD patients with washing rituals was examined from the perspective of Action Identification Theory (Vallacher & Wegner, 1985, 1987). Items related to the act of hand washing were classified as reflecting a low level of identification (its technical and concrete aspects) or a high level of identification (its purpose or higher goal). Twenty-five obsessive-compulsive washers rated their agreement with these descriptors. Compared to matched control participants, OCD patients agreed more with items reflecting high identification levels and less with items reflecting low identification level. The correlation between level of identification and degree of endorsement was highly positive in the OCD group and highly negative in the control group. Endorsement of items representing high vs. low levels of identification was strongly related to OCD severity. Specifically, Y-BOCS scores in the OCD group were highly positively correlated with agreement with high-level items but highly negatively correlated with agreement with low-level items. We discuss the implications of these results to understanding the factors that maintain compulsive behavior.
- Action identification
- Hand washing
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder