Clues to compulsive collecting: separating useless junk from objects of value
Richard A. Lovett
AN INTRIGUING NEW STUDY MAY help researchers understand why some people are compelled to hoard useless objects. Steven W. Anderson, a neurologist, and his colleagues at the University of Iowa examined 63 people with brain damage from stroke, surgery or encephalitis. Before their brains were damaged, none had problems with hoarding, but afterward, nine began filling their houses with such things as old newspapers, broken appliances or boxes of junk mail, despite the intervention of family members.
These compulsive collectors had all suffered damage to the prefrontal cortex, a brain region involved in decision making, information processing and behavioral organization. The people whose collecting behavior remained normal also had brain damage, but it was instead distributed throughout the right and left hemispheres of the brain.
Anderson posits that the urge to collect derives from the need to store supplies such as food–a drive so basic it originates in the subcortical and limbic portions of the brain. Humans need the prefrontal cortex, he says, to determine what “supplies” are worth hoarding. His study was presented at the annual conference of the Society for Neuroscience.
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