Pragmatic and idiosyncratic acts in human everyday routines: The counterpart of compulsive rituals

Hila Keren, Pascal Boyer, Joel Mort, David Eilam*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Our daily activities are comprised of motor routines, which are behavioral templates with specific goals, typically performed in an automatic fixed manner and without much conscious attention. Such routines can seem to resemble pathologic rituals that dominate the motor behavior of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and autistic patients. This resemblance raises the question of what differentiates and what is common in normal and pathologic motor behavior. Indeed, pathologic motor performance is often construed as an extended stereotyped version of normal everyday routines. In this study we applied ethological tools to analyze six motor routines performed by 60 adult human volunteers. We found that longer normal everyday routines included more repetitions, but not more types of acts, and that in each routine, most acts were performed either by all individuals (pragmatic acts) or by only one individual (idiosyncratic components). Thus, normal routines consist in a relatively rigid part that is shared by all individuals that perform the routine, and a flexible part that varies among individuals. The present results, however, do not answer the question of whether the flexible individual part changes or remains constant over routine repetition by the same person. Comparing normal routines with OCD rituals revealed that the latter comprise an exaggeration of the idiosyncratic component. Altogether, the present study supports the view that everyday normal routines and pathologic rituals are opposite processes, although they both comprise rigid motor behavioral sequences.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)90-95
Number of pages6
JournalBehavioural Brain Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 2010


  • Automaticity
  • Motor patterns
  • OCD
  • Repetitive behavior
  • Stereotypy


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