Perceptions of free will in obsessive-compulsive disorder: A quantitative analysis

Lucas J.B. Van Oudheusden*, Stasja Draisma, Sandra Van Der Salm, Danielle Cath, Patricia Van Oppen, Anton J.L.M. Van Balkom, Gerben Meynen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background: The aim of this study was to explore perceptions of free will in the repetitive behaviors of patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and to explore their relation with core clinical characteristics. Methods: Experiences of free will were assessed with the Symptomatology And Perceived Free will rating scale (SAPF) in 295 subjects with a lifetime diagnosis of OCD. Patients' scores on the SAPF were subjected to an explorative principal axis factor analysis (PAF). Factor scores were regressed on five OCD symptom dimensions and on seven clinical variables: illness duration, severity of OCD, insight, anxiety and depression, suicidal ideation and quality of life. Results: The PAF revealed three factors: the perceived ability to control and change one's course of action when faced with an obsession or compulsion (the "alternative possibilities" factor); the experience of obsessions or compulsions as intentional (the "intentionality" factor); and the experience of being the source or owner of the obsessions or compulsions (the "ownership" factor). Lower scores on the "alternative possibilities" factor were associated with lower scores on the washing dimension (β = 0.237, p = 0.004) and higher scores on the precision dimension (β = - 0.190, p = 0.025) and independently associated with longer illness duration (β = - 0.134, p = 0.039), higher illness severity (β = - 0.298, p < 0.001) and lower quality of life (β = 0.172, p = 0.046). Lower scores on the "intentionality" factor were independently associated with lower quality of life (β = 0.233, p = 0.027). Higher scores on the "ownership" factor were associated with higher scores on the precision dimension (β = 0.207, p = 0.023) and independently associated with poorer insight (β = 0.170, p = 0.045). Conclusions: The most notable finding of this study is that a diminished experience of free will in OCD is associated with core clinical characteristics: illness duration and severity, insight and quality of life.

Original languageEnglish
Article number400
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
JournalBMC Psychiatry
Publication statusPublished - 27 Dec 2018


The research infrastructure needed to complete the baseline measurements (including personnel and materials) was financed almost exclusively by the participating organizations (Academic department of Psychiatry, VU Medical Center/GGZ inGeest, Amsterdam; Marina de Wolf Centre for Anxiety Research, Ermelo; Centre for Anxiety Disorders ‘Overwaal’, Lent; Dimence, GGZ Overijssel; Department of Psychiatry, Leiden University Medical Center, Leiden; Mental Health Care Centre Noord-en Midden-Limburg, Venray; Academic Anxiety Centre, PsyQ Maastricht, Maastricht University, Division Mental Health and Neuroscience). The fieldwork coordinator was financed for one year by a research grant from the Stichting Steun VCVGZ. The funding bodies mentioned above had no role in the design of the study nor the collection, analysis and interpretation of the data.

FundersFunder number
Stichting Steun VCVGZ


    • Insight
    • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
    • Perceptions of free will
    • Phenomenology
    • Quality of life


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