From intrusive thoughts to obsessions: The role of perceptions of responsibility, salience, and thought suppression

University of Maine, Orono, Maine, USA
Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry (Impact Factor: 2.23). 12/2008; DOI: 10.1016/j.jbtep.2008.02.002

ABSTRACT Salkovskis [1985. Obsessional-compulsive problems: A cognitive-behavioural analysis. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 23, 571–583.] hypothesized that intrusive thoughts are more likely to occur if the thought is salient for the individual, triggers feelings of responsibility and if the individual attempts to suppress the thought. The relationship between these three factors (responsibility, salience, thought suppression) and frequency of intrusive thoughts as well as anxiety were examined in the present study. One hundred female college students were led to believe that a snake had escaped from the cage in which it was housed. Half of the participants were led to believe that they were responsible for the snake's escape and half were not (Responsibility/No Responsibility). Half of the participants in each Responsibility condition were instructed to suppress thoughts of snakes during a stream of consciousness exercise and half were not (Thought Suppression vs. No Thought Suppression). All participants then completed a second stream of consciousness without suppression instructions. Salience groups were determined by a median split on a measure of snake fearfulness. Participants for whom the snake was a salient stimulus and who believed that they were responsible for the snake's escape had the highest frequency of snake thoughts during the second stream of consciousness task and also experienced the highest levels of state anxiety. Findings are discussed with respect to Salkovskis' model.

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