Does a person have to be genetically predisposed to OCD in the first place to acquire the disorder regardless of their environment? 

While no theory is set in stone, it is interesting why one child in a family inherits OCD but a second child doesn’t. Neuroscientists think that environmental factors and genetics probably play a role in the development of the disorder. For example, a child who grows up with a germ-obsessed parent may develop a handwashing compulsion; yet another child in the same household might not. It appears that child 1 is most likely predisposed to acquiring the disorder, but child 2 fortunately hasn’t inherited the genetic link and thus lives a OCD free life regardless of environmental factors

What is the biological difference between a non-OCD person’s brain and a person who has the disorder?

The difference is that the first runs smoothly from one thought/action to another; whereas the second gets stuck in thought and action. If left untreated the disorder can become entrenched.

How does this happen?

Research points out that certain parts of the brain that play a role in the development of OCD are responsible. These parts of the brain fail to reciprocate normally. This means people with OCD fall short in responding to the signals that tell them a normal routine behaviour has come to an end (e.g., appropriate handwashing after using the toilet, or before eating). What happens is that looped information to and from the affected brain parts has the person washing their hands all over again, if this is their compulsion. Scans of the brain heating up when a person actively tries to “prevent” their feared outcome supports the theory that OCD is a biologically generated problem.

brain image OCD

 Why can’t checking that germs have been removed after prolonged handwashing ever satisfy a person’s doubts?

The simple answer is that intrusive thoughts interrupt normal communications, making ordinary life and daily activities a challenge for the person who lives with OCD.

Why else can’t people just stop these thoughts and behaviours?

In normal circumstances the part of the brain responsible for emotions sends signals to the heart and gut, leading to feelings of fear, dread and anxiety that something is “wrong” or “doesn’t feel right”. This is a natural process that puts any person in a fight or flight situation. While a person will respond appropriately to a “fight or flight” situation to protect oneself or others further problems arise for people on the OCD spectrum.

What are these problems?

First, because people who have OCD are conscious of their intrusive thoughts, images and impulses you’d think they’d find it simple enough to filter these out without effort, given that there is actually no real danger. But the area of the brain that stimulates emotions means the person feels an irrational need to “prevent” perceived harm (or to feel right), and to reduce distress momentarily. Checking that germs have been removed after prolonged handwashing, for example, can never satisfy persistent doubts, hence the repeated behaviour.

ocd-cycle ocdni

To summarise, the part of the brain responsible for detecting correct messages and also false messages signals that something is “right” and also that something is “wrong” or “doesn’t feel right”. Further, it connects thoughts with emotions and is closely connected to the part of the brain that sends gut feelings of fear and dread to the pit of the stomach. People who have OCD respond even when there is no real danger whereby they get stuck in a loop of obsessions and compulsions.

What’s the solution?

The following two articles provide some information about solution-focused therapies.

OCD – A Biological Perspective (Part 1)

OCD – A Psychological Perspective (Part 2)

Becoming familiar with the information in the above two articles can increase your knowledge on bio-behavioural theories and how these seem to play a role in the functioning and treatment of OCD; and further strengthens the information discussed in this article.

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