Although it has long been thought that experiencing an obsession is a psychiatric symptom, more recent literature, has seen the normalisation of obsessions and other presumably clinical phenomena. That is, not only people suffering from psychiatric disorders experience obsessions but non-clinical individuals also do so. Furthermore, it has been argued that such normal obsessions are very similar to abnormal ones, in terms of content. However, in the present study, evidence was obtained indicating that normal and abnormal obsessions do differ in content. A sample of 133 healthy undergraduates was given a list of 70 obsessions, with some originating from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) patients, and others stemming from healthy volunteers. Participants were asked to indicate whether they had ever experienced these obsessions. Participants endorsed significantly more normal than abnormal obsessions, suggesting that the two kinds of obsessions do differ from each other. In addition, the experience of clinical obsessions was more strongly associated with scores on a measure of OCD symptoms, than was the experience of normal obsessions.

Behaviour Research and Therapy
Department of Psychology

Rassin, E.G.C, Cougle, J.R, & Muris, P.E.H.M. (2007). Content difference between normal and abnormal obsessions. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 45(11), 2800–2803. doi:10.1016/j.brat.2007.07.006