Behavioral activation and inhibition in compulsive buying and obsessive-compulsive disorder

Ann Clin Psychiatry. 2021 May;33(2):e2-e7. doi: 10.12788/acp.0030.


Background: Compulsive buying (CB) is characterized by intrusive thoughts and behaviors related to the purchase of items, whereas obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) seems to arise from misattributed anxiety to a neutral stimulus resulting in the avoidance of the feared stimuli. Examining the triggers for the behaviors may provide useful information to possible shared etiology.

Methods: A total of 528 participants (age: mean = 20.97, SD = 5.15 years) were recruited through an online volunteer pool at a large university. Each participant completed demographic and clinical measures as well as the Behavioral Inhibition and Activation Sensitivities (BIS/BAS) self-report questionnaire.

Results: The OCD group (n = 101) endorsed the highest scores on BAS Reward Responsivity, which were statistically comparable to the control (n = 365) and CB groups (n = 27), yet significantly higher than the CB/OCD group (n = 35) (P < .007). The CB group did not differ from any group with regard to the BAS. The OCD group scored significantly higher than controls (P < .001), but did not differ significantly from the CB group (P = .05) on the BIS.

Conclusions: OCD and CB/OCD endorsed the highest sensitivity to threat and motivation to reduce distress. Together, these results convey anxiety and motivation to reduce distress as factors that differentiate groups and likely motivation to engage in compulsive behaviors.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anxiety
  • Anxiety Disorders
  • Compulsive Behavior
  • Humans
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult