Differences and similarities between obsessive and ruminative thoughts in obsessive-compulsive and depressed patients: A comparative study

Karina Wahl*, Sabine Schönfeld, Johanna Hissbach, Sebastian Küsel, Bartosz Zurowski, Steffen Moritz, Fritz Hohagen, Andreas Kordon

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Citations (Scopus)


Repetitive, intrusive cognitive phenomena are central both to obsessive-compulsive patients - typically as obsessive thoughts - and to depressed patients - typically as ruminative thoughts. The objective of the present study is to compare obsessive and ruminative thoughts in non-depressed obsessive-compulsive and depressed patients. Thirty-four patients diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder and 34 patients diagnosed with major depression disorder were asked to identify both a personally relevant obsessive and a personally relevant ruminative thought and to subsequently evaluate these thoughts on a modified version of the Cognitive Intrusions Questionnaire (CIQ) developed by Freeston, Ladouceur, Thibodeau, and Gagnon (1991). The CIQ assesses general descriptors, emotional reactions, appraisal and coping strategies on a nine-point Likert scale. A mixed-model ANOVA demonstrated that obsessive and ruminative thoughts are distinct cognitive processes, clearly distinguishable in form, appraisal and temporal orientation across disorders. In obsessive-compulsive patients, ruminative thoughts were more common and more emotionally distressing than predicted. In depressed patients, obsessive thoughts occurred infrequently and were not associated with high negative emotions. Clarifying similarities and differences between ruminative and obsessive thoughts and understanding their interaction might ultimately help to expand on the role of cognitive vulnerability factors in obsessive-compulsive and major depression disorder.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)454-461
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Depressive rumination
  • Intrusive thoughts
  • Major depression
  • Obsessive rumination
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Transdiagnostic processes


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