I obsessively clean because deontological guilt makes me feel physiologically disgusted!

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Cristina Ottaviani, Alberto Collazzoni, Francesca D'Olimpio, Tania Rovetta, Francesco Mancini (2018): I obsessively clean because deontological guilt makes me feel physiologically disgusted!. In: Journal of Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders, 2018.


The emotions of guilt and disgust play a pivotal role in obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). The present study hypothesized the existence of a distinctive relation between deontological (but not altruistic) guilt and subjective and physiological correlates of disgust. Moreover, we aimed at testing whether the evoked emotion of disgust may activate OCD-like washing behaviors. Gender-matched healthy participants were randomly assigned to altruistic (n = 31) or deontological guilt (n = 30) inductions followed by a cleaning task, while their electrocardiogram was continuously recorded to derive vagally-mediated heart rate variability (HRV). At baseline and after each experimental condition, participants’ momentary emotional state was assessed by visual analog scales (VAS). Compared to altruistic guilt, deontological guilt had the effect of: a) enhancing the physiological correlate of disgust (i.e. augmented HRV); b) increasing OCD-like washing behaviors (e.g. checking). In both groups, washing behaviors had the effect to reduce the physiological correlate of disgust. These effects were stronger in participants with higher OC tendencies, as indicated by scores on the dispositional questionnaires. Results support previous reports on a distinctive relation between deontological guilt and both disgust and OCD symptoms.