Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Wu, Kevin D.

Degree Name

M.A. (Master of Arts)

Legacy Department

Department of Psychology


Cognitive psychology; Behavioral psychology; Clinical psychology; Experimental psychology; Mental health; Anxiety disorders--Research; Obsessive-compulsive disorder--Research; Fear of contamination--Research


Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a debilitating disorder characterized by obsessions and compulsions that cause noticeable impairment across multiple life domains (American Psychiatric Association [APA], 2013). Various models have been used to describe the etiology and maintenance of this disorder, however, the cognitive-behavioral approach to OCD is the model with the most empirical support and direct treatment implications (Abramowitz, Taylor, & McKay, 2009). Additionally, this approach provides parsimonious descriptions of obsessions, compulsions, and their interrelations (Taylor, Abramowitz, & McKay, 2007). Extensive research regarding the etiology and maintenance of the disorder supports the theory that obsessions and compulsions arise from dysfunctional interpretations of intrusive thoughts. Experimental methods that attempt to modify interpretations, which may in turn reduce obsessions, represent an important next step in research.;To date, research on interpretation biases following presentation of ambiguous stimuli has been completed in the context of several disorders highlighted by the experience of anxiety, however, only four studies examine the interpretation of ambiguous scenarios in the context of OCD. Moreover, none has examined the effect of interpretation modification on performance during a contamination-related behavioral avoidance test (BAT). The current study utilized a computerized interpretation assessment (the Word Sentence Association Paradigm, WSAP) and modification paradigm (Interpretation Modification Paradigm, IMP) to extend extant literature by measuring and modifying dysfunctional interpretations and examining the effect of modification on levels of bias and behavioral avoidance in individuals with contamination concerns.;Participants (N = 74) completed a battery of questionnaires followed by a pre-assessment of interpretation bias (i.e., level of dysfunctional interpretation) and were then randomized into the active or control condition. Participants then completed the appropriate interpretation training, followed by a post-assessment of interpretation bias and three, six step BATs, measuring their anxiety and disgust at each step. Results indicated that changes in interpretation bias for threat cues were different across conditions ( F(1, 147) = 21.52, p < .001), with the active condition (t(41) = 8.36, p < .001), but not the control condition (t (31) = 1.56, p = .13) showing a significant decrease in bias from pre-to-post assessment. Conversely, interpretation biases for benign cues did not change significantly from pre-to-post assessment in either condition (F(1, 147) = .01, p = .94). Analyses of the BATs indicated that participants performed similarly on the BATs regardless of condition, however, as a whole, participants completed significantly more steps on BAT1 76.4% than they did on BAT 2 (64.7%; t(59) = 2.41, p = .019) or BAT3 (65.6%; t(73) = 3.27, p = .002). Furthermore, participants in both groups reported similar levels of anxiety and disgust for each of the three BATs when ratings were collapsed across steps. Taken together, these results suggest that completion of the active modification condition (IMP) was beneficial in reducing dysfunctional interpretations in individuals with contamination concerns; however, it did not appear to have immediate behavioral or emotional consequences. Limitations notwithstanding, the present study extends the extant literature and provides a foundation for future studies.


Advisors: Kevin D. Wu.||Committee members: Michelle M. Lilly; David P. Valentiner.


89 pages




Northern Illinois University

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