The Sense of Incompleteness as a Motivator of Obsessive-Compulsive Symptoms: An Empirical Analysis of Concepts and Correlates

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Psychology | Social and Behavioral Sciences


Contemporary models of obsessive-compulsive disorder emphasize the importance of harm avoidance (HA) and related dysfunctional beliefs as motivators of obsessivecompulsive (OC) symptoms. Recently, there has been a resurgence of interest in Janet’s (1908) concept of incompleteness (INC) as another potentially important motivator. Contemporary investigators define INCas the sense that one’s actions, intentions, or experiences have not been properly achieved. Janet defined INC more broadly to include alexithymia, depersonalization, derealization, and impaired psychological mindedness. We conducted two studies to address four issues: (a) the clinical correlates of INC; (b) whether INC and HA are distinguishable constructs; (c) whether INC predicts OC symptoms after controlling for HA; and (d) the relative merits of broad versus narrow conceptualizations of INC. Study 1 was a meta-analysis of the clinical correlates of narrowly defined INC (16 studies, N = 5,940). INC was correlated with all types of OC symptoms, and was more strongly correlated with OC symptoms than with general distress. Study 2 (N = 534 nonclinical participants) showed that (a) INC and HA were strongly correlated but factor analytically distinguishable; (b) INC statistically predicted all types of OC symptoms even after controlling for HA; and (c) narrow INC was most strongly correlated with OC symptoms whereas broad INC was most strongly correlated with general distress. Although the findings are limited by being correlational in nature, they support the hypothesis that INC, especially in its narrowform, is a motivator of OC symptoms.

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.