Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Wu, Kevin D.

Degree Name

Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy)

Legacy Department

Department of Psychology


Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a disorder characterized by obsessions and compulsions that causes noticeable impairment across multiple life domains. Various mechanisms have been implicated in the development of OCD, including maladaptive control-related beliefs related to: (1) individuals’ sense of control over any given situation, and (2) trait motivation for desire of control. Specifically, low levels of perceived control and/or an elevated desire for control have been linked to obsessive-compulsive symptoms across a variety of OCD subtypes, including contamination concerns. The current gold-standard treatment for OCD is exposure and response prevention (ERP), which requires individuals to yield control and confront a feared stimulus while abstaining from completing compulsions to control distress. However, this treatment is only successful for approximately 50% of individuals who begin treatment. This statistic leaves room for improvement of ERP, particularly for clients with maladaptive control-related beliefs who have difficulty yielding control and engaging with treatment. Thus, one target for increasing ease of behavioral approach in exposure-based therapy for OCD may be the cognitive, control-based deficits underlying OCD symptoms.

Extant literature suggests successful yielding of control can be completed with a variety of techniques, one being positive self-. Research on the use of positive self-talk research in OCD is limited; however, a large literature base in the sports psychology literature has examined the benefits associated with using positive self-talk. The current study utilized findings from existing literature to develop a novel positive self-talk intervention in an effort to increase individuals’ engagement with feared situations. The study assessed the effect of the manipulation on participants’ ability to yield control and engage with feared stimuli in an adaptive way.

A sample of students (N = 81) with elevated contamination concerns completed a battery of questionnaires followed by either a positive self-talk intervention or a coloring activity, and then a behavioral task with contamination-related stimuli. Results indicated the motivational, positive self-talk intervention used largely was effective in assisting individuals with yielding control and increasing engagement with a feared situation. Specifically, participants who completed the active, self-talk intervention (vs. control coloring condition) utilized positive self-talk more frequently, reported more confidence in their ability to use positive self-talk, and reported higher levels of motivation. Further, the active condition (vs. control) yielded significantly higher levels of cognitive and emotional control, but not overall sense of control. Lastly, when examining outcomes of the behavioral task, individuals who completed the active condition (vs. control) displayed significantly greater anxiety change, reported significantly greater confidence in their ability to approach feared situations, habituated more quickly (albeit non-significantly), and were two and a half times more likely to complete the second portion of the behavioral task. In sum, this study provided novel information regarding use of, and benefits associated with, positive self-talk in an adult sample with elevated contamination concerns. Limitations, theoretical implications, and recommended future research directions are discussed.


175 pages




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