Obsessive-compulsive characteristics: From symptoms to syndrome

Alan Apter, Theodore J. Fallon, Robert A. King, Gidi Ratzoni, Ada H. Zohar, Monica Binder, Avi Weizman, James F. Leckman, David L. Pauls, Shmuel Kron, Donald J. Cohen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

96 Scopus citations


Objective: To assess the distribution and severity of obsessions and compulsions in a nonclinical adolescent population. Method: During preinduction military screening, 861 sixteen-year-old Israelis completed a questionnaire regarding the lifetime presence of eight obsessive-compulsive (OC) symptoms and three severity measures. The presence or absence of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or subclinical OCD was ascertained by an independent interview. Results: Although only 8.0% and 6.3% of respondents reported disturbing and intrusive thoughts, respectively, 27% to 72% of subjects endorsed the six remaining OCD symptoms. Twenty percent of subjects regarded the symptoms they endorsed as senseless and 3.5% found them disturbing; 8% reported spending more than an hour daily on symptoms. OCD and subclinical OCD cases differed significantly from non-OCD cases, but not from each other, in distress and mean number of symptoms. Although the distribution of nine of the items differed for noncases, compared with OCD and subclinical OCD cases, the distributions for all items overlapped markedly across the three groups. Conclusions: OC phenomena appear to be on a continuum with few symptoms and minimal severity at one end and many symptoms and severe impairment on the other. Defining optimal cutoff points for distinguishing between psychiatric disorder and OC phenomena that are common in the general population remains an open question.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)907-912
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 1996
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
AcceptedAugust 18, 1995. Drs. Apter, Ratzoni, Binder, and Weizman are with Geha Psychiatric Hospital and the Division ofChild and AdolescentPsychiatry, Seckler School ofMedicine, University of Tel Aviv. Dr. Kron is Head ofthe Mental Health Branch,Medical Corps, IsraelDefenseForce. Drs. Fallon,King, Pauls,Lechman, and Cohen are with the Yale Child Study Center, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT. Dr. Zohar is with the Scheinfeld Center for Human Genetics in the SocialSciences, Department ofPsychology, Hebrew University, Jerusalem. This study was supportedin part by NIMH grants MH49351, MH00508, and NS16648. Reprint requests to Dr. King, Yale Child Study Center, 230 S. Frontage Road, P.O. Box 207900, New Haven, CT 06520-7900. 0890-8567/96/3507-0907$03.00/0© I996 by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.


  • adolescence
  • obsessive-compulsive disorder


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