Mental pollution and inflated responsibility in obsessive -compulsive disorder: The contribution of anxiety, disgust, and guilt

Joshua D Nelson, Fordham University


Substantial research has been done on Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and its related cognitions, behaviors, and emotions, predominantly anxiety and fear, and guilt and doubt. However, few experimental studies have examined the role of disgust—including its connections with anxiety and guilt—within the disorder's four main subtypes; cleaners, checkers, orderers, and pure obsessionals. This study explored these relationships in both undergraduate students who endorsed the experience of clinical levels of obsessive-compulsive symptoms (n = 27) and undergraduates who endorsed non-clinical levels of these symptoms (n = 78). In addition, it explored the related constructs of mental pollution, which is a sense of internal-uncleanness that exists regardless of the presence or absence of external, observable dirt; exaggerated or inflated responsibility concerning oneself and/or others, thought-action fusion (TAF), and depression. Participants completed questionnaires concerning obsessive-compulsive symptomatology (OCI), guilt (GI), inflated responsibility (RAS), thought action fusion (TAFS), depression (BDI-II), and disgust (DS). Participants also took part in an experimental manipulation in which they imagined brief physical contact with a complete stranger, a physically dirty person (homeless person), and a morally dirty person (child sex-abuser), and then rated their levels of anxiety, guilt, and disgust. Elevated levels of all emotions and related constructs were expected in the clinical-level sample. Also, in both samples, connections were expected to be found between OCD cleaning symptoms and feelings of physical dirtiness and disgust, and between OCD checking, doubting, ordering, neutralizing, and pure obsessional symptoms and the experiences of mental pollution and associated phenomena. In support of hypotheses, elevated levels of all constructs were found in the clinical-level sample. Both physical disgust and mental pollution were found to be associated with multiple forms of OCD symptomatology—little evidence was obtained in support of classificatory hypotheses. The role of inflated responsibility was most pronounced throughout. Connections between specific OCD symptom groupings and emotions—both expected and unexpected—were more prevalent in the non-clinical level sample. Multiple explanations for all findings are considered, including the impact of increased religiosity and the possible existence of functional emotional differences at the disorder's different severity levels. Implications for diagnoses and treatment are discussed.

Subject Area

Psychotherapy|Mental health

Recommended Citation

Nelson, Joshua D, "Mental pollution and inflated responsibility in obsessive -compulsive disorder: The contribution of anxiety, disgust, and guilt" (2005). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3169404.