Category: Obsessive Compulsive and Related Disorders


Abnormal Sensory Experiences in Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors

Sunday, November 19
10:15 AM - 11:45 AM
Location: Sapphire Ballroom C & D, Level 4, Sapphire Level

Keywords: Trichotillomania | Transdiagnostic | Risk / Vulnerability Factors
Presentation Type: Symposium

Body-focused repetitive behaviors (BFRBs) such as hair pulling and skin picking are compulsive habits that cause significant physical and psychosocial impairment. Behavioral models of BFRBs posit that symptoms are maintained by cognitive, affective, and sensory contingencies. However, research on sensory aspects of BFRBs is limited, making it difficult to understand the perceptual experience of persons with BFRBs, the role of sensory contingencies in symptom maintenance, and how to address sensory experiences in treatment. Meanwhile, research on related conditions such as Tic Disorders (TDs) and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) has demonstrated increased sensitivity to perceptual stimuli and impaired filtering of sensory information, which are thought to lead to feelings of hypersensitivity and sensory intolerance. The current study sought to examine whether adults with BFRBs experience sensory abnormalities similar to those seen in TDs and OCD.

Persons with Trichotillomania, Excoriation Disorder, other pathological BFRBs (e.g., nail biting, cheek biting) were recruited from the website of the TLC Center for BFRBs. Healthy control participants were recruited from a community sample at a large pubic university. Participants completed several self-report questionnaires including the Sensory Perceptual Quotient, the Sensory Gating Inventory, and the Multidimensional Assessment of Interoceptive Awareness.

Results showed that persons with BFRBs (N = 568) reported greater overall sensitivity to sensory stimuli than healthy controls (N = 471). Persons with BFRBs also showed deficits in sensory gating, such as trouble with perceptual modulation, becoming distracted by stimuli, feeling over-stimulated, as well as a greater propensity for stress and fatigue to affect their sensory regulation. Regarding interoceptive awareness, persons with BFRBs reported increased awareness of body sensations but greater worry about body sensations, poorer ability to direct attention toward body sensations, greater connection between negative affect and body sensations, poorer self-regulation of body sensations, and less feelings of overall comfort in their own bodies.

These results indicate that individuals with BFRBs have increased sensitivity to internal and external stimuli but impaired abilities in filtering and regulating sensory information. Implications for etiology and treatment of sensory features of BFRBs will be discussed.

David C. Houghton

Doctoral Student
Texas A&M University


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Abnormal Sensory Experiences in Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors

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