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Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a psychiatric disorder, specifically, an anxiety disorder. OCD is manifested in a variety of forms, but is most commonly characterized by a subject's obsessive drive to perform a particular task or set of tasks, compulsions commonly termed rituals. more...

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OCD should also be distinguished from the similarly named but notably different obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, which psychiatric guidelines define as a personality characteristic rather than an anxiety disorder.

The phrase "obsessive-compulsive" has worked its way into the wider English lexicon, and is often used in an offhand sense to describe someone who is meticulous or absorbed in a cause. Such casual references should not be confused with obsessive-compulsive disorder; see clinomorphism. It is also important to distinguish OCD from other types of anxiety, including the routine tension and stress that appear throughout life. A person who shows signs of infatuation or fixation with a subject/object, or displays traits such as perfectionism, is not necessarily stricken with OCD, a specific and well-defined disorder.

Symptoms and prevalence

Modern research has revealed that OCD is much more common than previously thought. An estimated two to three percent of the population of the United States is thought to have OCD or display OCD-like symptoms. Because of the condition's personal nature, and the lingering stigma that surrounds it, there may be many unaccounted-for OCD sufferers, and the actual percentages could be even higher.

The typical OCD sufferer performs tasks (or compulsions) to seek relief from obsessions. To others, these tasks may appear simple and unnecessary. But for the sufferer, such tasks can feel critically important, and must be performed in particular ways for fear of dire consequences and to stop the stress build up. Examples of these tasks: repeatedly checking that one's parked car has been locked before leaving it; turning lights on and off a set number of times before exiting a room; repeatedly washing hands at regular intervals throughout the day.

OCD rituals are often bound up with intricate detail — detail that may seem arbitrary to outsiders. Smokers with OCD, for instance, may argue with themselves that quitting cigarettes is possible only on the 13th or 27th of a month, and only when they are in possession of four cigarettes at noon.

Obsessions are thoughts and ideas that the sufferer cannot stop thinking about. Common OCD obsessions include fears of acquiring disease, getting hurt, or causing harm to someone. Obsessions are typically automatic, frequent, distressing, and difficult to control or put an end to by themselves. People with OCD who obsess over hurting themselves or others are actually less likely to do so than the average person.

Compulsions refer to actions that the person performs, usually repeatedly, in an attempt to make the obsession go away. For an OCD sufferer who obsesses about germs or contamination, for example, these compulsions often involve repeated cleansing or meticulous avoidance of trash and mess. Most of the time the actions become so regular that it is not a noticeable problem. Common compulsions include excessive washing and cleaning; checking; hoarding; repetitive actions such as touching, counting, arranging and ordering; and other ritualistic behaviors that the person feels will lessen the chances of provoking an obsession. Compulsions can be observable — washing, for instance — but they can also be mental rituals such as repeating words or phrases, or counting.


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OCD and the Cycle of Virus Doom
From PC Magazine, 4/26/04 by John C. Dvorak

An estimated 3.3 million Americans alone have obsessive compulsive disorder, or OCD, and more attention is being paid to the problem than ever before. At least two hit TV shows have main characters who exhibit the problem (Monk and Law & Order: Criminal Intent). The latest iterations of e-mail–based viruses exploit people in the office who have OCD and that's why there is no way that client-based initiatives to stop virus spreading can ever work. Ever. In fact, the virus problem will just get worse.

This observation was prompted by a posting in my online column on phishing. Junebug630 writes:

I had a co-worker—a supervisor—call me into her office the other month and ask me about an e-mail that she got. Now my company, a big time government contractor, is super security conscious and damn near inundates us weekly with warning messages to the point of saturation on the evils of e-mail attachments and worms etc. The woman, who is very intelligent and knowledgeable, said, "Look, there is a message from someone in my e-mail box. Should I open it?" Now this message was not internal, which she knew, and was of a very dubious nature from someone neither she nor I knew concerning a file or files that someone wanted her to download. I told her to instantly delete the message and any that came along like it. She was nervous about the message being something important and missing something that she would need to know. I had to practically nail her hands to the desk to keep her from opening the e-mail. I asked her "Do you open everything you get at home?" She replied, "Yes." I said, "Why?" And then she honestly couldn't tell me why.

The message goes on, but you get the point. When I read this I realized that no amount of public education will end the virus threat, with millions of compulsive people out there getting messages that say things like "Open the important attachment!" Apparently you don't need anything more than that simple demand to propagate a virus. You don't need spoofing, or tricks, or passwords or anything else. All you need is an attached virus or Trojan horse program and a note that says, "Open me!" Millions of poor souls with OCD will open it. And if OCD people fit in well in any sort of environment, it's the modern office environment where the ailment may actually be a benefit and lead to rapid promotions. Many with this ailment are geniuses in their own way and work harder than others to compensate for the OCD issues. Be that as it may, how many are like the otherwise smart womandescribed above? These people cannot erase the suspicious document and move on. They might be missing something important, after all. With the eventual "Big One" headed our way we can be assured that when it is delivered, the compulsive office workers of the world will be the triggering mechanisms.

Of course, many of us can protect ourselves from the direct problems that will arise, such as hard drive erasures. We are all susceptible to the potential meltdown of the Net itself, which can happen when these click-happy obsessives launch the war.

It's futile to try to stop compulsive people. What that suggests to me is that the entire virus threat prevention mechanism has to exist at a higher level. These viruses have to be stopped at the ISP level or perhaps all e-mail should be pumped through some Internet-based filter. The way I see it, if Kaspersky's anti-virus program can spot every attempt on my machine on the fly and quarantine e-mail attachments as they come in, then why can't this be done at the ISP/server level?

Exactly why is that OCD woman cited above allowed to get this stuff in her e-mail box in the first place? If the U.S. Post Office sees a stick of dynamite in the mail, they don't deliver it, do they? A .PIF or .SCR file is an easy thing to stop. It's so obvious. And any other sort of executable file can be quickly scanned by an ISP. All the current viruses that go back and forth for months on end are easily identifiable–you see the same ones over and over. Why are they continually being allowed to go from server to server? Maybe these ISPs should do something, given all the money they are making.

So why hasn't something been done at the only level that will stop the problem? I think it's the anti-virus lobby. Who stands to lose the most if the virus problem is eliminated at the ISP level? The client-based anti-virus software companies: Symantec, McAffee, Kaspersky, Panda, all of them. This is a billion-dollar business.

I've never been one to think that any of these folks actually code viruses, as some people assert. They don't have to. Other people stupidly do it for reasons only known to themselves. What I do not see is any real universal effort on the part of the anti-virus folks to seriously end the virus threat for good. They would put themselves out of business. It's a conflict of interest. The folks with all the expertise don't need to bring change.

It's ridiculous. What do you think can be done to end this cycle? I think that until the end user is taken out of the loop, we're stuck.

Discuss this article in the forums.

More articles from John Dvorak:

Copyright © 2004 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. Originally appearing in PC Magazine.

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