Washington: A new study has revealed that misfiring of the brain's habit control system may be behind the compulsions in obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
The research at the University of Cambridge has shifted opinion away from thinking of OCD as a disorder caused by worrying about obsessions or faulty beliefs, towards viewing it as a condition brought about when the brain's habit system runs amok.
The researchers found that patients with OCD were less capable of stopping these pedal-pressing habits, and this was linked to excessive brain activity in the caudate nucleus, a region that must fire correctly in order for us to control our habits.
Researcher Claire Gillan said that it's not just OCD; there are a range of human behaviors that are now considered examples of compulsivity, including drug and alcohol abuse and binge-eating and all these behaviors have the loss of top-down control in common, perhaps due to miscommunication between regions that control people's habit and those such as the prefrontal cortex that normally help control volitional behavior, suggesting as compulsive behaviors become more ingrained over time, people's intentions play less and less of a role in what they actually do.
Researcher Trevor Robbins added that while some habits can make life easier, like automating the act of preparing your morning coffee, others go too far and can take control of people's lives in a much more insidious way, shaping their preferences, beliefs, and in the case of OCD, even fears and such conditions, where maladaptive, repetitive habits dominate their behavior are among the most difficult to treat, whether by cognitive behavior therapy or by drugs.
The study is published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.