Hoarding and the brain

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With the new year quickly approaching, getting organized and finding a way to get rid of clutter may be one of your goals.  The decision of whether or not to keep an object is at the heart of this process.  It is easier for some of us than others, and in extreme circumstances, hoarding can be the result.  A recent study suggests that the brain of someone with hoarding disorder functions differently when faced with the decision to keep or discard an object.

Hoarding is defined as the excessive collection of things accompanied by the inability to discard these objects.  The decision making process of whether or not to keep something was recently studied by David F. Tolin, PhD, of Yale University and colleagues.  They found people with hoarding disorder had increased activity in certain parts of the brain when faced with a decision about whether or not to throw something away.  Tolin and his team observed abnormalities in parts of the brain through the use of functional MRI as participants were asked to decide to keep or discard an object.  Participants were separated into three different groups, those diagnosed with hoarding disorder, those with anxiety disorder and a control group.   When asked to discard an object, participants in the hoarding group reported higher anxiety and feelings of sadness than those in the other two groups.  Increased activity in the particular parts of the brain correlated with indecisiveness and uncertainty indicate that people with hoarding disorder struggle with this process.  Interestingly, there was no increase in brain activity in any group when participants were asked to make decisions about others’ possessions.

If clearing the clutter is on your to do list for 2013, these results would seem to suggest enlisting a friend or family member to help.  It seems to be more difficult to decide to get rid of our own belongings than those of someone else.

Click here to read a summary of the study.

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