The results: the hoarding group ultimately dispensed with far fewer pieces of paper than either the obsessive-compulsive disorder group or the healthy participants.
What's more, abnormal brain activity observed among those in the hoarding group was found to be distinct from that noted among either of the other two groups.
Specifically, when looking at brain imaging of the hoarders, the researchers focused on two regions: the anterior cingulate cortex and the insula.
In both regions, activity was particularly low among hoarders when they faced the dilemma of whether or not to keep or discard paper items that were not theirs. When faced with the question of what to do with items they did own, regional activity was particularly high.
And when comparing behavior against brain scans, the team found that neural activity in the two identified regions did correlate strongly with the severity of hoarding and self-expressed feelings of indecisiveness and discomfort.
Tolin said that his team will next turn to the question of whether or not behavioral therapy specifically designed to tackle the problem of hoarding helps patients.
Dr. Joseph Coyle, a professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at Harvard Medical School in Boston, lauded the fresh insights in the new study.
"What they demonstrate quite nicely is that hoarding does show a pattern of abnormal brain activity that is distinguished from simply being OCD. It clearly has its own distinct pathologic brain activity," he noted.
"And this illumination is important because although it is fairly uncommon and probably affects less than 1 percent of the population, we're talking about a serious problem," stressed Coyle. "This is not about keeping a few extra newspapers in the house. This is about filling your house up with things to the point when you can no longer even live in it. And this study goes a long way
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