IMR Scanned Images Show How Overwhelmed Hoarders’ Brains are When Making Decisions

By Sharon Moore on August 07, 2012

In a new study, researchers from the Institute of Living, Hartford looked into the brain of people with hoarding disorder and found out that some regions in the brain work abnormally as they make decisions. Their findings were published in the Archives of General Psychiatry.

Hoarding – a behavioural disorder characterised by excessive collection of items and the inability to discard them. People with this condition feel compelled to store and preserve things even though they’re not going to use it anymore. Hoarding usually creates a cramped environment where the patient’s home becomes too much crowded with unusable items. Some hoarders feel like keeping pets even to the point that they can no longer support them.

Some experts believe that hoarding might be a symptom of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). However, there are hoarders who don’t show any other symptom of OCD.

Studying How Hoarders Make Decisions

To determine the possible reasons or factors that lead hoarders to act that way, the researchers, headed by David Tolin, a psychologist from the Institute of Living, Hartford compared how certain regions in the brain work while making decisions.

The study involved 107 adults. 43 of them had hoarding disorder, 31 had obsessive-compulsive disorder OCD, and 33 were healthy individuals. Using paper items such as junk mail and newspapers that didn’t belong to any of the participants, the researchers conducted an experiment wherein participants would have to decide between keeping and letting go of items. While they do the task, the researchers examined the brain of the participants through IMR imaging.

The found that patients with hoarding demonstrated abnormal activity in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and insula as compared to those with OCD and healthy individuals. When making decisions on which items did not belong to them, the hoarders exhibited relatively lower activity in the said brain regions. The researchers suggest that such abnormality is a contributory factor that leads to people with hoarding disorder experiencing difficulty making decisions.

OCD versus Hoarding

According to Tolin, the cingulate cortex and insula play a major role in assigning importance and relevance to objects. For instance, he cited the case of a person having arachnophobia. Upon seeing a spider, the two regions would activate in a big way. Their study shows that hoarders do have the same type of brain reaction. They give too much importance to things that most people would consider junk.

Hoarding has been considered a symptom of OCD for a long time. The study however, supports the growing body of research saying that it is a distinct behavioural disorder. The fact that there are different regions affected in hoarding and OCD means that they’re two different disorders, the researchers conclude.


Source of this article:

Neural Mechanisms of Decision Making in Hoarding Disorder, David F. Tolin, PhD; Michael C. Stevens, PhD; Anna L. Villavicencio, PhD; Melissa M. Norberg, PhD; Vince D. Calhoun, PhD; Randy O. Frost, PhD; Gail Steketee, PhD; Scott L. Rauch, MD; Godfrey D. Pearlson, MD, JAMA and Archives Journals 

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