Imagining as an Observer: Manipulating Visual Perspective in Obsessional Imagery

  • Jessica R. GrishamEmail author
  • Savannah Minihan
  • Caleb J. Winch
Original Article


Mental images may be experienced in field (first-person) or observer (third-person) perspective. Compared to field, observer perspective has been shown to be less sensorially and emotionally evocative. Previous research suggested that images in obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD) are predominately experienced in field perspective. We examined the impact of visual perspective on response to intrusive obsessional images, using autobiographical memory images as a control stimulus. Undergraduates (N = 153) imagined idiosyncratic obsessional scenarios and negative memories from their natural visual perspective, then re-imagined them from a field or observer perspective. At baseline, field perspective was positively associated with vividness and distress and OCD symptoms were associated with an observer perspective. Participants shifted to observer perspective reported reduced vividness of the obsessional image, whereas those shifted to field reported increased anxiety associated with the obsessional image. Memories showed a similar, but not identical, pattern of results. We discuss implications for imagery in OCD.


Obsessive–compulsive disorder Visual perspective Intrusive imagery 



The authors would like to acknowledge the research assistants who were involved in data acquisition, as well as the students who participated in this research study.

Author Contributions

JG conceived of the original study and all authors contributed to the design. CW was involved in data acquisition and analyses. All authors were involved in interpretation of the data and the drafting of the manuscript.


Funding was provided by Australian Research Council Future Fellowship with Grant No. FT140100207.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

Jessica R. Grisham, Savannah Minihan and Caleb J. Winch declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

Ethical approval for the reported research was obtained by the University of New South Wales Human Research Advisory Panel (UNSW HREAP) and all procedures performed in the current research were in accordance with the ethical standards of UNSW HREAP.

Research Involving in Human Participants

The current research involved human participants.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all participants prior to participation in the study.

Animal Rights

No animal studies were carried out by the authors for this article.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jessica R. Grisham
    • 1
    Email author
  • Savannah Minihan
    • 2
  • Caleb J. Winch
    • 1
  1. 1.School of PsychologyUniversity of New South WalesSydneyAustralia
  2. 2.Department of Experimental PsychologyUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK

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