Approaching contamination-related stimuli with an implicit Approach-Avoidance Task

can it reduce OCD symptoms? An online pilot study

Ricarda Weil, Ansgar Feist, Steffen Moritz, Charlotte E. Wittekind*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

7 Citations (Scopus)


Background and objectives Dual-process models suggest that automatic behavioral tendencies contribute to the development and maintenance of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) symptoms. The aim of the present study was to investigate the potential of the Approach-Avoidance Task (AAT) to reduce OCD symptoms and associated distress. Methods The study was set up as an online intervention. Participants with OCD symptoms (N = 101) were randomly assigned either to one of two experimental conditions or a waitlist control group upon completion of an online baseline survey. Participants were instructed to respond to contamination-related and neutral pictures by pulling or pushing a computer mouse, respectively. In one AAT condition, contamination-relevant pictures remained on the screen one second after pulling (lock condition), while pictures disappeared immediately after pulling in the standard AAT. Participants completed an online re-assessment four weeks after baseline. Results For analyses, only data of patients with contamination-related OCD symptoms were analyzed. A significant reduction in distress caused by OCD symptoms was found for both AAT training groups. Furthermore, a reduction in compulsions occurred for the group using the standard AAT. No significant effect was found for the control group. Limitations Implicit behavioral tendencies prior to and after training were not assessed. Conclusions Findings tentatively suggest that the AAT might be effective in reducing washing-/contamination-related OCD symptoms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)180-188
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Approach-Avoidance Task
  • cognitive bias modification
  • OCD symptoms
  • self-help
  • online

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