Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

What is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a psychological disorder characterised by the experience of unwanted and repetitive intrusive thoughts and images (i.e., obsessions). These obsessions often compel the individual to perform some distress-reducing behaviour or mental act (i.e., a compulsion), such as checking, washing, or counting. 

What is this research about?

Associate Professor Jessica Grisham’s research on Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) integrates neuropsychological and psychological models of intrusive thoughts; two compatible, but historically separate, approaches to understanding cognition in OCD.

In order to accomplish this overarching aim, Jessica begun to examine key questions such as whether OCD symptoms are associated with a decreased ability to suppress intrusive thoughts. The initial findings demonstrated that beliefs about the importance of controlling one’s thoughts were associated with failures in thought suppression among individuals with OCD.

This work has led Jessica to examine whether we can modify implicitly the cognitive biases that characterise this disorder, alter emotional and cognitive responses to intrusive thoughts, and ultimately reduce OCD symptoms. She is also beginning to examine the role of imagery in maintaining OCD and whether we may manipulate certain aspects of intrusive obsessional imagery in a beneficial way.

Research students involved:

Kelvin (Shiu) Wong: Kelvin’s current doctoral research is aimed at answering the questions: How do obsessions and compulsions develop in obsessive-compulsive disorder? How are they maintained?

Specifically, Kelvin is exploring the relationship between maladaptive reasoning processes (i.e., inverse reasoning and distrust of the senses) and obsessive-compulsive symptoms using novel experimental tasks. Kelvin is also interested in examining the effectiveness of cognitive strategies, which aim to reduce one’s reliance on these reasoning processes, in ameliorating obsessive-compulsive symptoms.

Alice Kesby: Alice's doctoral research is aimed at examining the cognitive processes underlying anxiety and obsessive rituals in Eating Disorders, as well as examining a new pharmacological adjunct to target anxiety in this clinical population. Specifically, Alice is exploring whether difficulty tolerating uncertainty is related to core eating disorder psychopathology (i.e., restriction and ritualistic symptoms). Alice is also conducting a randomised controlled trial to determine whether a novel pharmacological agent, Oxytocin, effectively reduces meal anxiety and ritualized behaviours in inpatients with Anorexia Nervosa.

Recent publications relating to this research:

Black, M.J. (2016). Imagery versus verbal interpretive cognitive bias modification for compulsive checking. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 83, 45-52.

Whitton, A. E., Henry, J.D., & Grisham, J.R. (2015). Cognitive and psychophysiological correlates of disgust in obsessive-compulsive disorder. British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 54, 16-33.

Grisham, J.R., Becker, L., Williams, A. D., Whitton, A. E., & Makkar, S. R. (2014). Using cognitive bias modification to deflate responsibility in compulsive checkers. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 38, 505-517.

Williams, A. D., Pajak, R., Andrews, G., & Grisham, J.R. (2014) Internet-based cognitive bias modification for obsessive compulsive disorder: Study protocol for a randomized controlled trial. BMC Trials, 15, 193.

Williams, A.D., & Grisham, J.R. (2013).  Cognitive bias modification (CBM) of obsessive compulsive beliefs. BMC Psychiatry, 13, 256-265.   

Grants awarded:

Sole Chief Investigator, ARC Future Fellowship, awarded for research into the role that cognitive biases play in obsessional thought. This research project aims to employ a novel, computerised experimental methodology to directly manipulate the cognitive processes behind obsessional thinking.


Sole Chief Investigator, Australian Research Council Project Grant. Cognitive Control in Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

In the media:

Dr Jessica Grisham recently featured on ABC radio with Richard Fidler:  Jessica Grisham takes us inside Obsessive Compulsive Disorders.

Jessica also appeared on SBS Insight discussing OCD: Obsessed

Research Participation:

The Grisham Lab often recruits research participants in their studies. If you are interested, contact the Grisham Lab.

If you are interested in participating in psychological research regarding Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, please register your interest via the Grisham Lab.