138 Hoarding & Decision Making

Based on research by Tolin, David F. et al (2012), written by Mara Rowcliffe, BS.

Do you have clutter in your house? Most people do. If it’s a kitchen table full of mail, or a desk piled high with papers, it generally doesn’t interfere with life.

However, some individuals have a hoarding disorder.  Clutter overtakes their homes. Until recently, hoarding was classified as a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder (also known as OCD). However, research indicates it is a separate illness.  Psychologist David Tolin and colleagues evaluated how brains of individuals with a hoarding disorder are different from adults without mental health diagnoses and those with OCD.  By using an fMRI, researchers observed brain activity of participants while they were asked whether or not to throw something away. Results showed individuals who hoard items took longer to make decisions, and decided to keep more items.

In addition, they exhibited more brain activity in both the anterior cingulate cortex, a region associated with identifying mistakes under stress, and the mid-to anterior insula, a region related to emotional decisions.  Finally, those who hoard also showed a higher increase of anxiety, and sadness when making decisions. Psychological research brings hope for sufferers. Examining brain waves related to specific thoughts can lead to more effective treatments.


Tolin, D. F., Stevens, M. C., Villavicencio, A. L., Norberg, M. M., Calhoun, V. D., Frost, R. O., … & Pearlson, G. D. (2012). Neural mechanisms of decision making in hoarding disorder. Archives of general psychiatry, 69(8), 832-841.

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