What’s Going On In Hoarders’ Brains

For the most part, people believe compulsive hoarding is something you see only on TV. It’s always the same question: what’s going on in hoarders’ brains that they can’t give up stuff? Brain scans show there are some unique abnormalities in people suffering from compulsive hoarding.

David Tolin, director of the Anxiety Disorders Center and Center for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in Connecticut, undertook a study that shows hoarders’ brains are different than other obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCD) patients. David Tolin, the lead researcher, found at least one answer for what’s going on in hoarders’ brains.

“We wanted to see whether the brain activity of people who hoard is different from that of people with OCD, and whether it is different from that of healthy people” said David Tolin. “We also wanted to understand whether people who hoard show an abnormal brain response to decisions about whether to keep things or throw them away” the lead author added about the research.

Researchers investigated 107 adults, out of which 33 were healthy, 31 were OCD patients and another 43 suffered with compulsive hoarding. The participants in the study were first asked to bring some personal paper objects from home, such as newspapers and mail. Their personal paper objects were replaced with some they didn’t own.

They were then asked to decide whether they’re going to keep the replacement or not, knowing everything will be shredded in the end. MRIs monitored their brain activity during the process. People suffering from hoarding disorder kept more paper objects than OCD patients and healthy people.

MRI scans showed exactly what was going on in hoarders’ brains during that decisional process. The anterior cingulated cortex and the insula were activated during the hoarders’ dilemma about which paper object to throw away. As David Tolin added, these are the “parts that are involved with identifying the relative importance or significance of things”.

“These findings further suggest that hoarding should be considered separate from OCD, and that it deserves recognition as a unique psychiatric disorder” said David Tolin. “It also shows us that people who hoard have a hard time processing information normally, and that when they have to make a decision their brain goes into overdrive” the lead author added.

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