Compulsive rituals in Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder – A qualitative exploration of thoughts, feelings and behavioral patterns

Yair Wairauch, Jedidiah Siev, Udi Hasdai, Reuven Dar*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background and objectives: Rituals are common among healthy individuals and across cultures and often serve adaptive purposes. In individuals with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), rituals become compulsive, time-consuming and distressing, and may lead to functional impairment. Previous research has examined the functions and characteristics of compulsive rituals, but there is paucity of in-depth, first-person reports about this topic. Method: We used a qualitative approach to explore thoughts, feelings, and behavioral patterns that characterize OCD rituals. Ten individuals with OCD participated in a semi-structured interview that focused on their most prominent compulsive ritual. The interviews were subjected to a thematic analysis. Results: Eight themes emerged from the analysis and were organized in two main categories: Micro Level perspective, comprising triggers, attention, emotional changes, and stopping criteria; and Macro Level perspective, comprising feelings and perceptions, change over time, motives, and inhibitors. The findings shed light on the role of fixed rules and feelings of “completeness” in OCD rituals, the nature of emotional and attentional characteristics during rituals performance, and the evolution of compulsive rituals over time. Limitations: This study used a qualitative approach based on a small number of participants, which limits the generalizability of the findings. Conclusion: Our results, if replicated, may have clinical implications. The reported patterns of anxiety reduction during ritual performance may contribute to the fine-tuning of CBT for OCD. The findings concerning the nature of attention during ritual performance and the development of rituals over time may be important for understanding the mechanisms that maintain compulsive rituals.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101960
JournalJournal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry
StatePublished - Sep 2024


FundersFunder number
Israel Science Foundation1279/20
Israel Science Foundation


    • Compulsions
    • OCD
    • Rituals
    • Thematic analysis


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