Rituals, stereotypy and compulsive behavior in animals and humans

David Eilam*, Rama Zor, Henry Szechtman, Haggai Hermesh

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


From a survey of the behavior of animals in the wild, in captivity, under the influence of psychoactive drugs and in a model of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), we identify that the behavioral repertoire invariably includes motor rituals, and that such rituals are performed at a few specific locations/objects in the environment with an orderly transition amongst locations/objects. The concept and parameters of this stable organization of rituals in time and space were used to analyze rituals of OCD patients, compared with control individuals performing the same actions (e.g. car locking). It was found that human rituals also converged to a few places/objects where repetitive acts were performed in a regular order, with the acts in OCD patients overlapping with those of control individuals. Across a very diverse range of animals and conditions, motor rituals are thus characterized by their close linkage to a few environmental locations and the repeated performance of relatively few acts. Such similarity in form may reflect a similarity in the mechanisms that control motor rituals in both animals and humans.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)456-471
Number of pages16
JournalNeuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2006


  • Amphetamine
  • Focused stereotypy
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Pacing
  • Quinpirole
  • Route stereotypy
  • Spatiotemporal structure
  • Stationary


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