Holding On Too Tight

Hoarders brains scans analyzed

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Thanks to a surge of related reality shows, the notion of a “hoarder” has now become common knowledge. New research found that brain activity may be behind hoarders’ inability to let physical items go.

Study authors, led by David Tolin, PhD, from the Hartford Hospital in Connecticut, defined hoarding as “the excessive acquisition of and inability to discard objects, resulting in debilitating clutter”.

Dr. Tolin noted that the disorder is a proposed new category in the next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

"Talk to a therapist if you are facing emotional challenges."

A study published in the August 2012 issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry examined the brains of 107 adults - 43 hoarding disorder patients, 31 obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) patients and 33 control adults with no similar mental issues.

The research participants brains were scanned as they sorted through papers, some which belonged to them, some which were provided by the experimenters, and had to decide whether or not to throw the papers away.

Results showed that in the participants with hoarding disorder, areas of the brain that deal with assessing risks, monitoring errors, weighing values and emotional decisions were abnormally activated.

Nicole Meise, PhD and Licensed Psychotherapist, told dailyRx News that “based on the findings of this study, the increased activity seen in the anterior cingulate cortex seems to imply it takes a lot more mental energy for someone who suffers from this disorder to make a decision as whether or not to keep something, especially if it belongs to them.”

These patients, not surprisingly, threw away far fewer of their own items than did their counterpart subjects. For example, the healthy adults discarded on average 40.36 personal items each, the OCD patients discarded 36.77, while the hoarding group discarded 29.42 of such items.

Feelings of emotions like anxiety, sadness and indecisiveness were also reported at much higher rates among the hoarders than in the two other participant groups.

“We all have moments where we question, 'Should I keep this or throw it out?' But this new study implies that the process is very different for someone who suffers from hoarding disorder on a physiological level,” said Dr. Meise.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
August 16, 2012
Last Updated:
August 20, 2012