Hoarder’s Brains Hint At The Cause Of Their Problems
People who are hoarders have a compulsion to keep things, and often amass useless junk. Many times they are unable to see that they have a problem, and according to a new study, published in the journal Archives of General Psychiatry, the real problem is in their heads.
Researchers conducted brain scans on people with hoarding disorder and found abnormal activity in some of their brain regions when they were asked to make decisions about keeping something or throwing it out. The regions that showed abnormal activity are known to be associated with decision-making and risk assessment.
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"Hoarding seems to be characterized by problems in the decision-making process that can be seen in patterns of brain activity," David Tolin, study author and the director of the anxiety disorders center at the mental health center The Institute of Living, told Fox News.
That area of the brain appears to become overloaded when faced with the decision, which could explain why hoarders seem unfazed by the newspapers and other junk piling up around them.
"When you go into a house like that you've got to start thinking, 'How can this person live this way?'" Tolin told NBC News. "It can be maddening if you don't have this problem. But [hoarders] don't really seem to recognize or appreciate it. The part of the brain that should be saying this is important is underactive."
Researcher conducted brain scans on 43 hoarders, and compared their brain activity to 31 patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder and 33 healthy people. All patients were asked to bring in a bag of items from their home.
The patients were shown either their item or someone else's and asked whether it should be thrown away. When looking at someone else's item, there was little activity in the areas of the brain called the insula and the anterior cingulated cortex. But when looking at their own stuff, the area lit up.
"These two regions are commonly thought to constitute a network involved with the understanding of the relative importance or significance of something," Tolin told NBC News. "When hoarding participants were not making a decision that was personally relevant it was underactive. That may explain how a person can live in a horrible environment and not seem to care about it. The flip side is that when there's a personally relevant decision in front of them, such as whether to discard something they own, the region gets hyperactive and they are overwhelmed."
Researchers said the findings could help teach hoarders how to better make decisions and, hopefully, get over their compulsion.
"Part of what we're doing is teaching and drilling them on appropriate decision making," Tolin said. "They're used to responding to the overwhelming impact of these brain regions. When they start practicing doing it this way, they are actually teaching their brains not to have that reaction."
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