Thought Control Questionnaire (TCQ)

The Thought Control Questionnaire (TCQ) is a 30-item instrument  devised by Adrian Wells and Mark I. Davies   (1994) to assess the effectiveness of strategies used for the control of unpleasant and unwanted thoughts.

Type of Instrument

Intrusive and subjectively uncontrollable thoughts are a central feature of numerous anxiety disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, generalised anxiety disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.  They also occur in other disorders such as depression and hypochondriasis.  The concept of controlling one’s thoughts effectively is implicit in several treatment approaches for these problems such as thought stopping, controlled worry periods, cognitive re-appraisal and the use of distraction techniques. However several studies have suggested that some strategies produce an increase in the frequency of suppressed thoughts which would play an important role in the maintenance of the disorders(Wells et al., 1994). Hence the need for an instrument capable of measuring which strategies produce effective control of intrusive thoughts.

The TCQ was developed to provide a measure of the various techniques which individuals use to control unpleasant and unwanted thoughts. It also explores the relationship between the use of different strategies and measures of stress vulnerability and psychopathology.

Recent studies indicate that the TCQ scales appear to be sensitive to changes associated with recovery (Adrian Wells and Martina Reynolds, 2000) which would suggest that it is a useful instrument for measuring the effectiveness of strategies for controlling unwanted thoughts.

The TCQ is a  30 item self report questionnaire. Items are scored on a four point rating scale with 1 = never, 2 = sometimes, 3 = often; 4 = almost always  The TCQ measure five factors that correspond to different strategies for controlling unwanted thoughts: Distraction (item 1,9,16,19,21 and 30); Social Control(items 5, 8, 12, 17, 25 and 29); Worry (items 4, 7, 18, 22, 24 and 26); Punishment (items 2, 6, 11, 13, 15 and 28); and Re-appraisal (items 3, 10, 14, 20, 23 and 27).


Internal Consistency of subscales: The Cronbach Alpha scores (n = 229) obtained for the subscales were as follows: Distraction = .72; Social Control = .79; Worry = .71; Punishment = .64; Re-appraisal = .67. As a .8 alpha score indicates high internal reliability, the scores obtained suggest fair to good internal consistency. This means that individual items did relate to the entire sub-scale The alpha for the total score was not reported.

Subscale inter-correlations: The correlations between individual subscales ranged from r = -0.02 to r = 0.27.  With the highest correlation being between the punishment and worry sub-scales (r=0.27).  However, as the co-efficients were generally low it suggests that each sub-scale is measuring a distinctly different dimension.

Test-Retest Reliability: At six-weeks apart the test-retest correlations ranged from .67 to .83 for the subscales.  With the total score being .83, indicating that it is a stable measure.


Predictive Validity: The TCQ scores were correlated with scores on a variety of other measures.  There were 50 subjects, 18 of whom were males.  Their age range was 22-43 years.  The measures selected were:  Padua Inventory, The Anxious Thoughts Inventory  Self-consciousness scale, Penn State Worry Questionnaire, The Eysenck Personality Inventory and the Spielberger Trait anxiety subscale. The results were consistent with the prediction that  a relationship existed between dimensions of thought control and perceived impaired control of thought . Furthermore significant correlations were obtained with neuroticism, public self-consciousness and trait-anxiety. The total score specifically taps into control strategies associated with intrusive thoughts rather than urges and impulses (Wells & Davies, 1994).


Items on the Distraction, Punishment, Worry and Re-appraisal sub-scales are scored simply by totalling the numbers endorsed by respondents.  The Social Control sub-scale contains three reverse scored items (5, 8 and 12).  A total TCQ score can be obtained by summing the individual sub-scales.


The TCQ was developed in a series of studies including administration to 229 undergraduate and postgraduate students between 18 and 47 years of age.  Of the 229 students, 96 were male and 133 were female.  Scores were as follows:

                                     Men                         Women
Subscale              M             SD              M             SD

(1)Distraction        14.58      3.06            14.61      2.89

(2)Social                13.58      3.36            14.42      3.27

(3)Worry                 10.53      2.88            10.23      2.55

(4)Punishment       10.19      3.20             9.83       2.67

(5)Re-appraisal     14.92      3.33            13.80      2.49

Total TCQ              49.22      7.27             48.29    6.21


Corcoran & Fisher, J (2000)  Measures for Clinical Practice: A Sourcebook (3rd Ed.) New York: Free Press

Wells, A., & Davies, M.I (1994) The Thought Control Questionnaire: A measure of individual differences in the control of unwanted thoughts. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 32, 871-878.

Reynolds, M.,  & Wells, A (2000) The Thought Control Questionnaire - Psychometric properties in a clinical sample, and relationships with PTSD and depression. Psychological Medicine, 30, 1465.


Questionnaire available here (PDF).

Above written by: Ms. Denise Carl

Reviewed, edited and approved by: Dr. Grant J. Devilly