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12-09-2021 | Original Article

Predictors of obsessive–compulsive symptomology: mind wandering about the past and future

Auteurs: Scott N. Cole, Peter M. C. Tubbs

Gepubliceerd in: Psychological Research | Uitgave 5/2022

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Abstract

Purpose

Obsessive and compulsive tendencies are known to occur in the general population and involve worry around specific concerns (obsessions) and an urge to resolve the concern with thoughts or behaviours (compulsions). Spontaneous, but not deliberate, mind wandering experiences (when attention turns to internal mentation), have been found to predict obsessive– compulsive tendencies [Seli, P., Risko, E.F., Purdon, C. & Smilek, D. (2017). Intrusive thoughts: linking spontaneous mind wandering and OCD symptomatology. Psychological Research, 81, 392–398. https://​doi.​org/​10.​1007/​s00426-016-0756-3]. Recent cognitive theory suggests a particular role for future-oriented spontaneous thought in obsessive–compulsive (OC) symptoms. Thus, we hypothesised that future-oriented rather than past-oriented spontaneous mind wandering would predict OC symptoms, such that more future-oriented mind wandering would be associated with increases in OC symptoms.

Methods

In an online survey design (nonclinical sample of 104 adults), participants completed three measures: Mind wandering: Spontaneous (MW-S) and Deliberate (MW-D) (Carriere, Seli & Smilek, 2013); Involuntary Autobiographical Memory Inventory (Berntsen, Rubin & Salgado, 2015); and Dimensional Obsessive–Compulsive Scale (DOCS) (Abramowitz et al., 2010). We adopted a linear regression approach to examine our hypotheses.

Results

We provided the first replication of the finding that OC symptoms are predicted by the frequency of spontaneous (but not deliberate) mind wandering, with an underlying positive relationship. Additionally, we found that temporality of spontaneous thought had different predictive effects as a function of the dimension of OC symptoms (i.e., responsibility, unacceptable thoughts, need for symmetry/completeness).

Conclusions

We found moderate support for our temporality hypothesis, which highlights how the construct of temporality can add to our understanding of OC symptoms. The present study also adds to recent conceptual debates regarding mind wandering. We suggest new cognitive and methodological approaches to enhance the understanding of obsessive–compulsive disorder, opening new avenues for clinical and experimental research.
Voetnoten
1
It is worthy of mention that other related types of spontaneous thought have also been examined, often in their own right, are involuntary autobiographical memories (Berntsen, 2009), mind-pops (Kvavilashvili & Mandler, 2004) and, spontaneous future cognition (Cole & Kvavilashvili, 2019a).
 
2
Mind wandering has variously been referred to as self-generated thought (Smallwood & Schooler, 2015), task-unrelated thought (Raichle, Macleod, Snyder, Powers, Gusnard & Shulman,
2001), stimulus-independent thought (Antrobus, Singer & Greenberg, 1966), and daydreaming (Singer, 1966). Nevertheless, the most commonly used term across time and different authors has been mind wandering (Smallwood & Schooler, 2006, 2015). For a description of terminology in this field see Smallwood & Schooler, 2015, and see Seli, Kane, Smallwood, Schacter, Maillet et al., 2018, Christoff, Mills, Andrew-Hanna, Irving, Thompson et al., 2018; and Seli, Kane, Smallwood, Schacter, Maillet et al., 2018b for a recent debate.
 
3
Although the majority of research has investigated the link between depression/anxiety and future thinking, it is acknowledged that anxiety disorders (such as PTSD and social anxiety disorder) are also associated with changes in the content of autobiographical memories (e.g., Krans, Peeters, Näring, Brown, de Bree, 2017).
 
4
MW has also been examined in relation to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), a disorder that often coexists with anxiety (Schatz, & Rostain, 2006). In ADHD, several recent studies have found an elevated frequency of MW in ADHD compared to control groups (Biederman, Lanier, DiSalvo, Noyes, Fried et al., 2019; Helfer, Cooper, Bozhilova, Maltezos, Kuntsi, 2019) and higher levels of spontaneous MW (Moukhtarian, Reinhard, Morillas Romero, Ryckaert, Mowlem et al., 2020; Seli, Risko, Purdon, & Smilek, 2017).
 
5
For a related explanation of how mental imagery can increase subjective probabilities of negative-future scenarios (in anxiety in general), see Raune, MacLeod & Holmes (2005) in which they propose ‘the simulation heuristic’—an explanation for the role of mental imagery in anxiety disorders.
 
6
From the start of this investigation, we were agnostic as to whether past-oriented MW would predict additional variance in OCD symptomology, due to a lack of previous evidence or theory linking OCD with past-oriented thought. This contrasts other disorders such as PTSD or depression, where a link with past-oriented thoughts has been well-documented.
 
7
This measure was selected due to its relevance to measuring involuntary thoughts about the past and future. We were not aware of any scale that specifically measured MW about the past and future, and although Berntsen (2019) has argued for differences between autobiographical involuntary memory and future thinking and MW on conceptual grounds, based on a recent review of empirical research from MW, future thinking and prospective memory (Cole & Kvavilashvili, 2019a, 2019b), we believe there is enough convergence in findings between these studies, to consider past and future involuntary thoughts to past and future oriented thoughts measured in the MW literature (see Baird et al., 2012). We, therefore, selected the scale by Berntsen, Rubin & Salgado (2015) for both pragmatic and conceptual reasons.
 
8
In Seli et al. (2017), MW was 4.50 (deliberate) and 4.27 (spontaneous), whereas DOCS was M = 3.53 (contamination), M = 3.28 (responsibility), M = 3.90 (unacceptable thoughts), and M = 2.96 (symmetry/completeness). This may have been due to data collection taking place in the covid-19 pandemic and UK lockdown in May 2020. This point will be elaborated in the discussion section.
 
9
This separation of regression models based on the four sub-scales of the DOCS (Abramowitz et al., 2010) is consistent with Seli and colleagues (2017).
 
10
To facilitate future research in this area, such as meta-analyses, we provide details of our methods on the open science framework ( 10.17605/OSF.IO/E2KXP).
 
11
A further hypothesis is that both spontaneous MW and OCD symptomology share a common, third variable, such as dissociative absorption, which may indicate another risk factor in the emergence of full OCD (Soffer-Dudek, 2019). However, again, this hypotheses is mainly preliminary and future studies would be needed to support it.
 
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Metagegevens
Titel
Predictors of obsessive–compulsive symptomology: mind wandering about the past and future
Auteurs
Scott N. Cole
Peter M. C. Tubbs
Publicatiedatum
12-09-2021
Uitgeverij
Springer Berlin Heidelberg
Gepubliceerd in
Psychological Research / Uitgave 5/2022
Print ISSN: 0340-0727
Elektronisch ISSN: 1430-2772
DOI
https://doi.org/10.1007/s00426-021-01585-4

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