Scrupulosity, magical thinking and neutralization effectiveness

Adam Warshowsky, Fordham University


According to existing data, approximately 2.5% of the general population suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. However, recent research supports the belief that sub-clinical obsessive thoughts and resulting compulsive behavior is more common in the general population than originally theorized. It has been shown that intrusive thoughts occur in almost 90% of the general population yet are indistinguishable in terms of content from clinical obsessions. The existing literature also indicates interwoven relationships between both scrupulosity and magical thinking, and obsessive-compulsive symptoms. Scrupulosity has been defined as persistent doubts about sin and irresistible urges to perform excessive religious behavior, whereas magical thinking is similar to superstitious belief (one's thoughts can have an affect on the external environment). The purpose of this study was to examine the effects of scrupulosity and magical thinking on the effectiveness of neutralization behaviors within a non-clinical population with OCD symptoms. A sample of 247 undergraduate Psychology students from Fordham University were screened utilizing 9 sell report questionnaires measuring various aspects of scrupulosity and religious orientation, magical ideation, anxiety, and OCD symptoms. From this sample, 50 students who met study criteria were invited to participate in the experimental phase. The experimental session consisted of three phases---Contamination Fear (CF) and Checking Compulsion (CC), with a Delay phase in between, each lasting 5 minutes. Initially a baseline level of distress was recorded. Then, at the beginning of each of the CF and CC phases, a thought concerning contamination or checking was introduced, respectively, and each participant asked to focus on the thought for a brief time. Afterwards, each study participant was instructed to stop thinking about the thought, and rated their distress level at 1-minute intervals throughout each 5-minute phase. A numerical rating scale designed specifically for this study was used to record distress on a scale from "0" (No Distress) to "10" (Extremely Distressed), with lower distress levels representing neutralization effectiveness. Study results did not support a significant relationship between the constructs of scrupulosity, magical thinking, and religious orientation and neutralization effectiveness (p<.05). However, consistent with current literature, significant relationships were found between scrupulosity, magical thinking, and OCD.

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Recommended Citation

Warshowsky, Adam, "Scrupulosity, magical thinking and neutralization effectiveness" (2006). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3240066.