Fight fire with fireflies! Association splitting

A novel cognitive technique to reduce obsessive thoughts

Steffen Moritz*, Lena Jelinek, Ruth Klinge, Dieter Naber

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

40 Citations (Scopus)


A novel cognitive technique, termed "association splitting", aimed at reducing obsessive thoughts, is introduced. Association splitting draws upon the so-called "fan effect" of associative priming. Transposing this principle to the treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), we hypothesize that the sprouting of new and the strengthening of existing neutral associations to core OCD cognitions will reduce their fear-evoking properties by depriving the chain of OCD-related cognitions of associative strength. To test the feasibility and efficacy of this approach, an internet intervention study was implemented. Initially, 38 subjects with OCD obsessions took part in a survey. After completion of the survey they were then sent a self-help manual. Three weeks later, participants were re-contacted. One-third of the participants responded to the treatment (at least 35% decline on the Y-BOCS scale). The completer analysis revealed a response rate of 42%. It is suggested that association splitting may lead to symptom relief in a subgroup of participants and may represent a useful addition to the tool box of cognitive-behavioural techniques.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)631-635
Number of pages5
JournalBehavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • Cognitive therapy
  • Obsessions
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Outcome

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