School of Health in Social Science

Investigating excessive rationalisation in OCD

Excessive rationalisation describes a maladaptive cognitive strategy which is used by people with OCD to deal with their unwanted thoughts.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a common (~2% of the population) yet debilitating mental illness. It involves distressing intrusive thoughts (obsessions) and physical or mental actions aimed at reducing distress (compulsions). Full remission from OCD is rare and relapse is common. As such, scientific research urgently needs to identify new ways forward for people with OCD.

Elizabeth Kirkham, the lead researcher on this project, defined the new concept of “excessive rationalisation” through discussion with people with OCD and a review of the wider literature. Excessive rationalisation describes a maladaptive cognitive strategy which is used by people with OCD to deal with their unwanted thoughts. Simply put, it involves an attempt to explain away or argue with an unwanted OCD thought. Excessive rationalisation is similar but distinct from other psychological concepts such as rumination and cognitive reappraisal. Unlike rumination, which involves focusing on one’s distress and its causes and consequences, excessive rationalisation is grounded in an attempt to “solve” an OCD thought or problem created by OCD. Similarly, whilst cognitive reappraisal is a therapeutic technique which can help individuals to reframe their concerns in a more positive light, excessive rationalisation is repetitive and does not provide genuine relief from the OCD problem.  

This project is made up of two main stages:

Funded by the Wellcome Trust Institutional Translational Partnership Award (iTPA) 5K Springboard Fund and the Wellcome Trust iTPA Translational Innovation Competition