Is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder a Pathology of the Human Disposition to Perform Socially Meaningful Rituals? Evidence of Similar Content

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This study investigated the theory that obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a pathology of the human disposition to perform culturally meaningful social rituals. We tested the hypothesis that the same actions and thoughts that are ego-dystonic in OCD are valued when they are appropriately performed in socially legitimated rituals. Two coders analyzed ethnographic descriptions of rituals, work, and another activity in each of 52 cultures. The coders recorded the presence or absence of 49 features of OCD and 19 features of other psychopathologies. The features of OCD were more likely to be present and occurred more frequently in rituals than in either control; rituals also contained more diverse kinds of OCD features. The features of other psychopathologies were less likely to be present and were less numerous in rituals than the features of OCD. Analysis of variance showed that OCD features discriminate between rituals and controls better than the features of other psychopathologies. These results suggest that there could be a psychological mechanism that operates normally in rituals, which can lead to OCD when it becomes hyperactivated.

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