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Most People Have Unwanted Thoughts, International Study Finds

Difference for people with OCD is how they react, experts say
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Almost 94 percent of the students said they'd had unwanted and intrusive thoughts during the past three months. "For most people, it was more than once," Radomsky said.

The surveys defined intrusive thoughts as having to do with subjects like contamination (worrying about germs, for instance), aggression (such as thinking about hurting someone else), and doubt.

An expert who praised the new study said people with OCD carry these thoughts further.

"The difference between individuals with OCD having a violent thought -- for example, thinking of pushing someone in front of a car -- is that they worry about the fact that they have the thought: 'What does this mean? Why am I thinking this? Does this mean I might actually do it?'" said Jeff Szymanski, executive director of the International OCD Foundation.

By contrast, he said, someone without OCD might respond by thinking the thought was peculiar but go on with their day.

Why would evolution give humans the ability to have fearful and unwanted thoughts? It may have something to do with people's natural ability to multitask and "think all sorts of things," study author Radomsky said.

The study acknowledges several caveats that could affect the reliability of its findings.

For one, the surveys were taken in different countries with different cultures and languages, potentially making it hard to directly compare the responses. Also, the survey questions may not have turned up an accurate number of intrusive thoughts among the participants. And the study only looks at college students, not older or younger people.

The study authors call for more research to confirm the findings and discover how they compare with scientific theories about OCD.

The study appeared in the Journal of Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders.

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