Technology has allowed researchers to learn more about the complex mental disorder of hoarding.
In a new study, scientists used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure neural activity among individuals with the disorder.
They discovered that the disorder is associated with abnormal activity in regions of the brain that are activated when an individual attempts to decide what to do with objects that did or did not belong to them.
By definition, hoarding disorder is described as the excessive collection of objects and an inability to discard them. It is characterized by marked avoidance of decisions about possessions.
In the study, David F. Tolin, Ph.D., of the Institute of Living in Hartford, Conn., and colleagues used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure neural activity when decisions had to be made about whether to keep or discard possessions.
Investigators studied 107 adults at a private, not-for-profit hospital and compared neural activity among 43 patients with hoarding disorder, 31 patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and a group of 33 healthy individuals.
The objects used in the study were paper items, such as junk mail and newspapers, that either did or did not belong to the participants.
Compared with patients who had OCD and the healthy individuals, researchers found that patients with hoarding disorder exhibited abnormal activity in the portion of the brain called the anterior cingulate cortex and insula.
When deciding about items that did not belong to them, patients with HD showed relatively lower activity in those brain regions.
However, when deciding about items that did belong to them, these regions showed “excessive functional magnetic resonance imaging signals” compared with the other two groups, according to study results. Researchers say these findings are consistent with new models of hoarding disorder that suggest decision-making processes are impaired.
“The present findings of anterior cingulate cortex and insula abnormality comport with emerging models of hoarding disorder that emphasize problems in decision-making processes that contribute to patients’ difficulty discarding items,” the authors said.
The group of patients with hoarding disorder chose to discard significantly fewer participant’s possessions than did the other two groups, the results indicate.
Researchers say the findings that the anterior cingulate cortex and insula areas of the brain were under-stimulated when deciding on items that did not belong to the individual, yet over-stimulated when the item did belong to them, warrants additional investigation.
The findings are reported in the journal Archives of General Psychiatry.