December 16, 2004
Brain Cortex Area Identified For Compulsive Collectors

Compulsive hoarders suffer from brain damage to the right mesial prefrontal cortex.

By studying patients who developed abnormal hoarding behavior following brain injury, neurology researchers in the University of Iowa Roy J. and Lucille A Carver College of Medicine have identified an area in the prefrontal cortex that appears to control collecting behavior. The findings suggest that damage to the right mesial prefrontal cortex causes abnormal hoarding behavior by releasing the primitive hoarding urge from its normal restraints. The study was published online in the Nov. 17 Advance Access issue of the journal Brain.

Comparison of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain scans between collectors and normal people turned up the location where the collecting behavior comes from.

The UI team studied 86 people with focal brain lesions - very specific areas of brain damage to see if damage to particular brain regions could account for abnormal collecting behavior. Other than the lesions, the patients' brains functioned normally and these patients performed normally on tests of intelligence, reasoning and memory.

A questionnaire completed by a close family member was used to identify problematic collecting and the behavior was classified as abnormal if the collection was extensive; the collected items were not "useful" or aesthetic; the collecting behavior began only after the brain injury occurred; and the patient was resistant to discarding the collected items.

The questionnaire very clearly split the patients into two groups 13 patients who had abnormal collecting behavior and a majority (73 patients) who did not. Unlike normal collecting behavior such as stamp collecting, the abnormal collecting behavior of these patients significantly interfered with their normal daily life. Patients with abnormal collecting behavior filled their homes with vast quantities of useless items including junk mail and broken appliances. Despite showing no further interest in the collected items, patients resist attempts to discard the collection.

To determine if certain areas of damage were common to patients who had abnormal collecting behavior, the UI researchers used high-resolution, three-dimensional magnetic resonance imaging to map the lesions in each patient's brain and overlapped all the lesions onto a common reference brain.

"A pretty clear finding jumped out at us: damage to a part of the frontal lobes of the cortex, particularly on the right side, was shared by the individuals with abnormal behavior," Anderson said. "Our study shows that when this particular part of the prefrontal cortex is injured, the very primitive collecting urge loses its guidance.

So then are stamp collectors and baseball card collectors slightly brain damaged? My guess is that there is a continuum of urges to collect with some people having stronger natural urges that have to find some outlet.

It seems likely to me that just as there are people who have excessive urges to collect there are other people who lack mimimally sufficient urges to collect possessions to be able to keep enough possessions around them to take care of themselves. On average do wealthier people have stronger urges to collect possessions? Do people who buy things have stronger urges to collect objects than people who go and spend their money travelling and entertaining themselves? Seems plausible.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2004 December 16 02:27 AM  Brain Disorders

Michael Vassar said at December 16, 2004 10:10 AM:

An insight from the world of rationality as opposed to automotonism.
Until around age 15 or age 16 I was basically what you might label a horder, though not self-destructively so.
I felt that it was a waste of money to spend money on an activity because after doing the activity you are
left with nothing, and when I spent money it was always on things.
Eventually I noticed that most things depreciate in both retail value and value to me with time, and that even
appearent collectors items generally lost most use value soon after acquisition, while the transaction costs of
selling them were great (pre e-bay). With this realization I decided to only consider the benefit of using new posessions during the anticipated period of use, and to ignore long-term benefits of ownership, which had appeared substantial but which were actually small. My consumer behavior shifted rapidly and radically, and has remained in a new equilibrium without any effort for the last decade or so.

Katherine Moeller said at October 3, 2005 9:12 AM:

Is there a correlation between mood disorders and hording? Can a traumatic event (non-physical) bring on hording behavior?

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