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  1. David F. Tolin

Published Online: 30 JAN 2010

DOI: 10.1002/9780470479216.corpsy0210

Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology

Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology

How to Cite

Tolin, D. F. 2010. Compulsions. Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology. 1–3.

Author Information

  1. The Institute of Living, Yale University School of Medicine, Hartford, CT

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 30 JAN 2010


Compulsions, along with obsessions, are a hallmark feature of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). According to DSM-IV-TR (American Psychiatric Association, 2000), compulsions are “repetitive behaviors…or mental acts…the goal of which is to prevent or reduce anxiety or distress” (p. 418). Although behaviors resembling compulsions occur at a range of frequencies in the normal population, in order to be considered pathological the compulsions must be associated with either intense distress or functional impairment. Impairment from compulsions can be quite severe, with some individuals spending several hours per day performing rituals, feeling unable to stop and attend to their daily responsibilities. The label “compulsion” has been applied to a broad range of repetitive behaviors, including excessive drinking, gambling, and shopping, but, these behaviors are differentiated from true compulsions by the function they serve. This function is described in detail in this article.


  • compulsions;
  • obsessive-compulsive disorder;
  • learning theory;
  • reinforcement