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Disgust and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Here you will find an overview of the topics disgust and obsessive-compulsive disorder. For an overview on the topic of disgust-associated disorders and their treatment, we would like to refer to the following book:

  • Fink-Lamotte, J., & Exner, C. (in prep). Disgust-related disorders. Göttingen: Hogrefe-Verlag (Progress in Psychotherapy). [Publication date expected end of 2023]

Change of pathological disgust experience

Disgust is a maintaining emotion of various mental illnesses. The quality of feelings of disgust and the associated experience of contamination is characterized by a rigidity in the experience of change. Besides, disgust is often overlooked in the diagnostic process or not recognized by in the self-experience as a diffuse experience. For these reasons, it is important to develop concrete strategies that directly change disgust and contamination experiences. In previous studies, we showed that adapted cognitive strategies and Imaginative Rewriting (Fink, Pflugradt et al., 2018; Fink & Exner, 2019), as well as self-compassion-based strategies (Fink-Lamotte, Platter, Stierle et al., 2022), and strategies that combine cognitive and imaginative strategies, such as CRIM (Fink-Lamotte, Kursim & Exner, under revision), help directly change disgust and contamination experience.

In further studies, we investigated the extent to which technical aids, such as transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), help to improve the effect of the strategies (Fink & Exner, 2019; Fink & Exner, 2019a).

Further open questions that will be addressed in the research group are:

  • Which mechanisms of disgust experience can best be changed with which strategies?
  • What are the effects of the strategies as single-session interventions in clinical naturalistic and clinical randomized trials?
  • What are the long-term effects of the strategies?

Cooperations with:

Interventions used (use freely available)

On the diagnosis of rigid contamination/disgust experience (Fink-Lamotte, Bieber, Jordan & Exner, submitted):

For treatment of contamination/disgust experience:

Proposed indication matrix for the treatment of disgust

Object disgustContact contaminationExposure procedureSpecific phobias (spiders, snakes. vomiting), phobia of blood and syringes, obsessive-compulsive disorder, eating disorders.
Cognitive procedure

Mental contamination

Imagery procedurePost-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, eating disorders
Self disgust Compassion-based proceduresSkin disorders, Eating disorders, Borderline personality disorder, Depression, Sexual dysfunction disorders.


Investigation of disorder-maintaining disgust-specific mechanisms. 
Several mechanisms are discussed that directly or indirectly influence and maintain psychological currents through disgust. These include

  1. Stimulus-related aspects, according to which disgust directly triggers, e.g., strong avoidance behavior through the experience of the emotion, which contributes to psychopathology through feedback processes.
  2. Self-disgust, according to which, through devaluation by oneself or others, disgust is experienced about one's own personality or self. In terms of schematic enduring attributions, this may contribute to the development of psychopathologies.
  3. Moral disgust, according to which the violation of norms and rules leads to disgust and revulsion, which can lead to rejection, avoidance, and withdrawal.
  4. Cognitive distortions, whereby disgust influences perception and experience, and through selective distorted perception, emotional experience is also altered or enhanced.

In the context of our research, we focus so far in particular on stimulus-related aspects (Fink, Lüders & Exner, 2020) and on cognitive distortions. Here, we investigate to what extent attention- and memory-related biases (Fink, Buchta & Exner, 2018; Fink-Lamotte, Widmann et al., 2021; Fink-Lamotte, Svensson et al., 2021), as well as interpretation biases (Fink-Lamotte, Widmann et al., 2020) contribute to psychopathology. As part of the studies, we use eye trackers and eye-tracking glasses, as well as measurements of psychopathology (ECG and EMG).

In the context of further studies, however, we also investigate self-stealing, e.g., in the context of skin diseases (Fink-Lamotte & Stierle, 2022; Fink-Lamotte, Wehle et al., in prep.).

Cooperations with