I was wondering if it is possible for someone to have a clinical obsession with higher education. For example, the person who has this disorder constantly talks to others about things such as college to the point where something seems very wrong. Does a disorder like this exist? Or can it be a form of another disorder? I'm asking because I'm writing a research paper on various obsessions and would like to gain some insight on the matter.

  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to Cogntive sciences. What do you mean with "clinical obsession"? A pathological obsession? $\endgroup$ – AliceD Aug 29 '15 at 12:31

Short answer

With the limited amount of information given, it is hard to say. However, if the obsession causes marked distress in the person who displays obsessive behaviour, or it substantially interferes with the person's normal routine, the obsession could, but not necessarily, be diagnosed as a disorder under the category of Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders

Long answer

There are a fair few obsessive/compulsive habits which can be clinically diagnosed as being a disorder. For any obsession or compulsion to be considered obsessive or compulsive in the realms of psychological disorders, the habits and their presenting symptoms need to follow a set criteria laid down in the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders — 5th Edition)

DSM-5 has a whole section on Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders and these include obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), hoarding disorder, trichotillomania (hair-pulling disorder), and excoriation (skin-picking) disorder.

To be diagnosed with a Obsessive-Compulsive or related Disorder, the person:

  • Must exhibit obsessions, compulsions, or both.
  • The obsessions and/or compulsions cause marked distress, are time consuming (take more than 1 hour per day), or interfere substantially with the person's normal routine, occupational or academic functioning, or usual social activities or relationships.
  • The obsessions and/or compulsions are not attributable to the physiological effects of a substance or other medical condition.
  • The disorder is not better explained by the symptoms of another mental disorder, such as obsession with food in the context of an eating disorder.

Obsessions are:

  • Recurrent and persistent thoughts, urges, or images experienced, at some time during the disturbance, as intrusive and unwanted and in most individuals cause marked anxiety or distress.
  • There is some effort by the affected person to ignore or suppress such thoughts, impulses, or images, or to neutralise them with some other thought or action (i.e., by performing a compulsion).

Compulsions are:

  • Repetitive activities (e.g., hand washing, ordering, checking) or mental acts (e.g., praying, counting, repeating words silently) that the person feels driven to perform in response to an obsession or according to rules that must be applied rigidly.
  • These behaviours or mental acts are performed in order to prevent or reduce distress, or prevent some dreaded event or situation. However, they are either clearly excessive or not connected in a realistic way with what they are designed to neutralise or prevent. (BMJ, 2017; APA, 2013) [Emphasis mine]

When making a formal diagnosis, the person making the dignosis would have to specify certain aspects in the diagnostic report based on specifier criteria laid out in the DSM.

Published by the World Health Organization, the ICD-10 offers another internationally recognised definition of OCD. It classifies OCD in its own chapter, F42, distinguished from the other anxiety disorders.

The essential feature is recurrent obsessional thoughts or compulsive acts. Obsessional thoughts are ideas, images, or impulses that enter the patient's mind again and again in a stereotyped form. They are almost invariably distressing and the patient often tries, unsuccessfully, to resist them. They are, however, recognized as his or her own thoughts, even though they are involuntary and often repugnant. Compulsive acts or rituals are stereotyped behaviours that are repeated again and again. They are not inherently enjoyable, nor do they result in the completion of inherently useful tasks. Their function is to prevent some objectively unlikely event, often involving harm to or caused by the patient, which he or she fears might otherwise occur. Usually, this behaviour is recognized by the patient as pointless or ineffectual and repeated attempts are made to resist. Anxiety is almost invariably present. If compulsive acts are resisted the anxiety gets worse.

Incl.:   anankastic neurosis
           obsessive-compulsive neurosis

Excl.:  obsessive-compulsive personality (disorder)

Although it is not a diagnostic tool, the Yale-Brown Obsessive-Compulsive Scale (Y-BOCS) (Goodman, et al., 1989; Rosario-Campos, et al., 2006) is the most widely used measure of OCD symptoms. It is a severity assessment tool which can be used as a self-report instrument or a semi-structured interview, and has been demonstrated to be valid in OCD. The Y-BOCS exists in both an adult and a child version.


APA, 2013. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th Edition). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Publishing.

BMJ, 2017. British Medical Journal: Best Practices - Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder [Online]
Available at: http://bestpractice.bmj.com/best-practice/monograph/362/diagnosis/criteria.html

Goodman, et al., 1989. The Yale-Brown Obsessive Compulsive Scale. I. Development, use, and reliability. Archives of General Psychiatry, 46(11): pp. 1006-11
PMID: 2684084 DOI: 10.1001/archpsyc.1989.01810110048007

Rosario-Campos, et al., 2006. The Dimensional Yale-Brown Obsessive-Compulsive Scale (DY-BOCS): an instrument for assessing obsessive-compulsive symptom dimensions. Molecular Psychiatry, 11(5): pp. 495-504.
PMID: 16432526 DOI: 10.1038/sj.mp.4001798


To my knowledge there are no such diagnosable disorders. Remember, disorders are only disorders when they significantly and negatively impact social and/or occupational functioning. So if a person only talks about special interests, this might impact social functioning but how significant is it? Does the participant have friends which support his interests? Does it matter to him? Does it negatively affect self-esteem, worth? Does it affect his occupational functioning? Probably not significant enough to be a full blown disorder.

I think something which might be of interest to you is Autism Spectrum Disorder. Many individuals who are high-functioning may become obsessed about a specific topic of interest. They might investigate the ins and outs of the given interest.

You might be able to relate what you mentioned to media addiction but that is not a DSM-V disorder. There is nevertheless research about it, especially along the internet media addiction lines.

Hope this helps give you some direction.


In specific cases of learning disabilities (for example dyslexia), literature has highlighted relationships with emotionally distressed issues. Among these, the school phobia is of particular interest (Chitiyo and Wheeler, 2006):

It's a fear and repulsion to the school that provokes negative emotional relationships
Involve 2% of the school population and especially in transition periods or 6 to 11 years
(Gordon e Young, 1976).

It is different from anxiety because it has more "diffused" and "irrational" components, and if untreated it can lead to serious forms of isolation and depression (Gordon and Young, 1976)

I wish I've been helpful, for further informations i advise these references:

1 - School Phobia: Understanding a Complex Behavioural Response by Chitiyo and Wheeler

2 - School Phobia: A Discussion of Aetiology, Treatment and Evaluation by Gordon and Young


In reference to your question,

A diagnosis Is not something that should be generally thrown out if someone has a mild obsession for school. If you were to go into the DSM-V and look for an actual diagnosis because the obsession seems unreasonable and interacts with daily functioning, three diagnosis would come to mind.

A spectrum disorder, such as Autism or Asperger's could be diagnosed if the obsession reaches a certain level that clearly interacts with daily functioning.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is another disorder that could be used if no other symptoms of the spectrum disorder are present.

A Mild Anxiety Disorder could be diagnosed.

Hope This Helps, David Lopez Blass


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