Heads Or Tails? Ritualistic Behaviors May Help You Succeed

image via kansasbob.comimage via kansasbob.com Not everyone who engages in repetitive behavior suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).  It may depend, says Professor David Eilam of Tel Aviv University, on whether it's a heads or tails activity.

A zoology professor, Eiliam and his graduate student, Hila Keren, teamed up with Prof. Pascal Boyer of Washington University and Dr. Joel Mort of the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory to investigate ritualistic behaviors in humans and animals. Their research, reported in Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, is premised on the development of ritualistic behaviors in both humans and animals as ways to induce calm and manage stress - to heighten our beliefs that we are in control of situations that we would otherwise see as totally out of our control.

The research team studied videos of people completing common tasks such as putting on their shirts, locking a door, or making coffee, and grouped all activities they saw into one of three categories used to encompass practically all human behaviors: preparatory, functional, or confirmatory.  They dubbed the preparatory category 'heads,' to describe the behaviors taking place before the functional activity, let's say unbuttoning the top two buttons of a shirt.  Following heads would be the functional behavior, which involves putting the shirt on, say, over one's head.  The confirmatory behavior the researchers dubbed 'tails,' and that might be looking at oneself in the mirror to confirm that the shirt was put on properly. 

Heads behaviors and tails behaviors may be helpful in determining which behaviors are pathological and which are not, the group suggests, and they use some basketball player rituals as an example of heads behaviors - ones like bouncing the ball six times before taking a shot.  Crossing oneself, mumbling a prayer, or saying a special person's name before taking a shot would all be heads behaviors.

Professor Elm says that head behaviors tend to make people more successful at accomplishing their functional behaviors.  They force persons to concentrate and to calm down before a functional activity as, let's say, shooting a ball.  Also, there is a distinct end to the heads activity.

Tails rituals, those that follow the functional activities, don't have a clear end, however, and don't tend to provide the feeling of control sought through the ritual.  One with OCD might keep checking the score, or asking others if they saw the shot... to reaffirm that the basket had been made. 

More commonly seen in the pathology of OCD might be continuously checking to see if one has turned off the lights, closed the garage door, or continuously washing one's hands. These ritualistic behaviors, the tails, actually leave one feeling less in control, not more in control, as the heads would have it.

The heads or tails approach adds an interesting perspective to the study of human behavior and pathological behavior, an insight of professional and lay interest.


source: Medical Xpress