Application of the concept of cognitive vulnerability to the development of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is receiving theoretical and empirical consideration. Recent work with regard to conceptualization and assessment of cognitive factors in OCD (Frost & Steketee, 2002) warranted continued investigation of the phenomenology and etiology of these factors. This exploratory study aimed to provide further support for the beliefs/appraisals model of OCD posited by the Obsessive Compulsive Cognitions Working Group (OCCWG, 1997) and to explore possible family factors involved in the development of these cognitive vulnerabilities.
A nonclinical, university sample (N = 249) completed a battery of self-report measures assessing OC symptoms, OC-related beliefs and appraisals, trait anxiety, worry, perfectionism, family functioning, and parental traits.
The first goal of the study was to provide evidence of the cognitive vulnerability model of OCD by demonstrating continued evidence of the relevance and specificity of the hypothesized cognitive factors (Perfectionism/Certainty; Responsibility/Threat Estimation; Importance/Control of Thoughts). Evidence was found for significant relationships between OC symptoms and OC beliefs/appraisals; however, significant relationships were also found between OC beliefs/appraisals and other anxiety-related constructs, casting doubt on the specificity of these cognitive factors to OCD. Moreover, much of the predictive validity of OC beliefs was shown to be due to negative affect.
The second goal of the study was to examine the possible familial and parental factors that may be involved in the development of cognitive vulnerability to OCD. Significant relationships were found between OC variables and the FAD subscale of Affective Involvement but not with the other hypothesized subscales, General Functioning, Affective Responsiveness, and Behavior Control. In addition, an unexpected significant relationship was found between FAD Roles and OC variables. Thus, inappropriate familial involvement in one's affairs as well as inappropriate assignment of duties and responsibility across family members may be relevant dimensions for further investigation.
Consistent with previous work implicating a harsh parenting style among parents of individuals with OCD, caregiver harshness but not order/organization was associated with OC variables, suggesting that perhaps over-control, criticalness, and emotional coldness are more relevant than traits more closely related to perfectionism and obsessive compulsive personality disorder. However, these findings were not found to be specific to OC variables, as removal of negative affect caused correlations to attenuate.
Thus, the beliefs/appraisals model of OCD continued to receive mixed support for its validity, with specificity posing a significant issue. Continued work should further examine how these beliefs and appraisals develop, with particular emphasis on familial variables.