Emotional Intelligence in OCD


Individuals with OCD have different areas of brain activation in response to perceived threats than healthy controls.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is one of the most commonly over self-diagnosed conditions. It is fairly common for individuals who like to keep their environment clean and neat to jokingly refer to themselves as having OCD. Less relaxed cohorts of exceptionally orderly people also label their spouses, roommates, or coworkers as OCD. Yet, true OCD is a real psychiatric disorder that interferes with daily life. 

True OCD diagnosis vs. socially labeled OCD

Obsessive-compulsive disorder involves obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors and may be dominated more heavily by either the thoughts or the behaviors. The obsessions may include, but are not limited to, anxieties about neatness, orderliness, cleanliness, or fears and apprehensions about real or imagined inconveniences, problems, or dangers. The compulsive behaviors are easier to identify and may include hand washing, checking and rechecking and lining up objects, and other behaviors that are intended to ensure cleanliness or orderliness or to avoid errors. 

Overall, for the psychiatric diagnosis of OCD to be made, the symptoms must be time consuming and must interfere with life. The obsessions and compulsions of OCD are excessive to the point of uselessness, going beyond productive thoughts and behaviors, as they do not aid in ensuring safety or in preventing negative consequences. 

Many people have some mild characteristics that resemble OCD but that, by and large, do not have a major negative impact on day-to-day life. Those who are labeled casually as OCD may, in fact, be careful perfectionist individuals whose behaviors and thoughts are apt to produce either good outcomes or bad outcomes. For example, those causally labeled as having OCD may offend or upset others with their judgmentalism and unrealistically high standards. On the other hand, people who have OCD characteristics but not true OCD may be particularly effective at catching errors and thus preventing major problems, making them particularly suited for jobs that require careful rechecking. 

OCD and the perception of hostility 

Interestingly, individuals living with OCD have different areas of brain activation in response to perceived threats than healthy controls. One of the perceived threats that almost everyone faces on a daily basis is the threat of interpersonal hostility. 

Most individuals do not suffer from extreme anxiety when it comes to minor interactions with others, such as changing lanes, replying to routine emails, doing errands, and the regular give and take involved in the workplace. However, individuals who have OCD are more likely to be suspicious and to perceive hostility from others. 

Could this high level of suspiciousness and increased perception of hostility be useful in any way? Perhaps individuals who have OCD are better suited to detect dishonesty or to pick up on hostility sooner than their healthy peers. 

According to studies of emotional intelligence, higher perception of hostility is linked to low, not high, emotional intelligence, which means that it could interfere with social and professional success. Yet, of course, there is a margin of error when it comes to trust or mistrust. So, while individuals with OCD may perceive hostility where there is none, perhaps people living with OCD may, in few instances, avoid offending others and may steer clear from harm due to acumen in detecting hostility. 

Do you think that lack of interpersonal trust associated with OCD can be beneficial in some situations?


Tellawi G, et al. Interpersonal hostility and suspicious thinking in obsessive-compulsive disorder. Psychiatry Res. 2016 Jun 29;243:295-302.

Luigjes J, et al. Doubt in the insula: risk processing in obsessive-compulsive disorder. Front Hum Neurosci. 2016 Jun 14;10:283.

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