Date of Award

August 2013

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science



First Advisor

Han-Joo Lee

Committee Members

Christine L. Larson, Shawn P. Cahill


Contamination Fear, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder


Recent research suggests that safety behaviors may not preclude cognitive change or treatment gains in exposure-based therapy for obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). However, it is relatively unknown what categories of specific behaviors may be detrimental to the therapeutic process. Some researchers argue that classifying safety behaviors based on their function may be the best solution. The current study sought to examine the extent to which different safety behaviors enhanced or weakened treatment outcomes for contamination fear and washing symptoms. Fifty-one non-clinical students were randomly assigned to one of three conditions: (1) exposure with no safety behaviors (NSB), (2) exposure with preventative safety behaviors (PSB), or (3) exposure with restorative safety behaviors (RSB). Among the primary outcomes, greater reductions in fear, disgust, and behavioral avoidance were found for RSB in comparison to PSB, and the gains made by RSB were generalizable to other sources of potential contamination. Overall, the current study suggests that restorative safety behaviors may be beneficial as an adjunct to therapy whereas preventative behaviors are potentially detrimental. Results of the study are discussed in terms of the cognitive-behavioral theory and treatment of anxiety disorders, and future research directions are suggested.