Researchers at the University of Cambridge in England have developed a “brain training” smartphone app that could help people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) manage symptoms like excessive handwashing. Up to up to 46 percent of people with OCD experience severe contamination fears and obsessive handwashing behavior that can have a significant impact on their mental health and daily lives. Breaking obsessive-compulsive habits requires cognitive flexibility and that’s a significant problem for those with OCD who have “cognitive rigidity.” Treatment for the condition, which may include medication, cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), and “exposure and response prevention” therapy, is ineffective for up to 40 percent of people with OCD.
For their study, the researchers divided 93 healthy people with strong contamination fears into three groups: one group watched videos of themselves washing their hands, one group watched videos of themselves touching fake contaminated surfaces, and the control group watched themselves use their smartphones. The researchers used healthy volunteers instead of OCD patients to ensure the study didn’t worsen symptoms.
After a week of viewing 30-second videos four times a day, study participants in the first two groups experienced fewer OCD symptoms and greater cognitive flexibility than the control group. Yale-Brown Obsessive-Compulsive Scale (YBOCS) scores — the most widely used clinical assessments for OCD severity — improved by about 21 percent in these groups, according to the researchers.
Sourced from: Scientific Reports