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Neuroscience and Psychiatry
November 2016

Neural Mechanisms of Harm-Avoidance Learning: A Model for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?

Author Affiliations
  • 1Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging, University College London (UCL), London, England
  • 2Max Planck UCL Centre for Computational Psychiatry and Ageing Research, London, England
JAMA Psychiatry. 2016;73(11):1196-1197. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2016.1938

A middle-aged man with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) had, since early adulthood, a fear of being infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). In turn, he developed a variety of compulsive behaviors, such as excessive hand washing, to reduce what he perceived as risks for infection. Despite being aware of the irrationality of his behavior, his compulsions dominated his life. This type of scenario raises a question as to why some people with distressing thoughts develop excessive compulsions, while others do not.

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