Skip to comments.Researchers Find Clues to 'Pack-Rat' Urge
Posted on 12/18/2004 7:05:24 AM PST by MississippiMasterpiece
Attention, pack rats: science may have figured you out. Researchers say they've found an area of the brain that seems to govern the urge to collect.
For most people, collecting is a perfectly healthy behavior. It's an outlet for expressing passion for just about anything, such as stamps, wine, art, shoes, or Elvis memorabilia.
Collecting is also common among animals, and not just for food. It's been observed in creatures great and small, from mammals to insects. For instance, some birds can't resist aluminum and bright objects, while hamsters gather glass beads when given the chance.
But in rare cases, collecting gets out of hand in humans. People have been known to hoard items compulsively -- not out of necessity, appreciation, or financial investment. Abnormal collecting can even disrupt normal life, causing problems for the collector and the people they live with.
Abnormal hoarding behavior following brain injury was recently studied at the University of Iowa's medical school by researchers including Steven Anderson, PhD. All 86 participants had brain lesions. Most cases occurred in adulthood. Despite their brain lesions, participants had normal brain function with normal scores on intelligence, reasoning, and memory tests.
Participants were interviewed about their collecting behavior. To ensure accuracy, the researchers also talked to a close relative of each subject (usually a spouse).
A total of 13 people were classified as "abnormal collectors." They had excessive collections of useless items that began after the brain injury occurred, and they resisted changing their hoarding habits.
The abnormal collectors had something else in common.
"A pretty clear finding jumped out at us," says Anderson, in a news release. "Damage to a part of the frontal lobes of the [brain's] cortex, particularly on the right side, was shared by the individuals with abnormal behavior."
That part of the brain may keep collecting in check. Damage in that brain area may make people lose control over their collecting.
The finding could have wider meaning, says Anderson.
"Patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder and some other disorders, such as schizophrenia, Tourette's syndrome, and certain dementias can have similar pathological collecting behavior," says Anderson, in the news release.
"Our hope is that our findings
will lead to insights in these conditions, as well." The study appears in the January issue of the journal Brain.
Sweeet...those are some nice titles...wish I would have known you...I would definitely have wanted in on the bidding.
Yeah, I saw a documentary on a packratter not too long ago, probably on Discovery channel.
The guy was clearly in the grips of an illness. He had rental storage full of the most useless imaginable junk, like 10 golf bags, boxes full of electronics gear (transistors, etc). And two more outbuildings in the back yard.
After his wife threatened divorce, the guy got psychological help. They'd dispose of one or two items at a time. But then he'd go back to the dumpster and take it back.
Thanks for a thoughtful post. We tend to think of these people as slobs but it is not always the truth. It seems that some sincerely want to get over this but can't. It is a compulsive disorder.
No, you live in Mississippi.
Often, thoughts of collecting girlfriends has crossed my mind...
However, thoughts of selective dismembership has prevented me from acting on the impulse.
I watch the animal cop shows and am always stunned at the dog and/or cat collectors (with attendant filth).
My Mom was a garage saler -- After she died, my sister and I were amazed at the amount of "stuff" that her tiny house and garage could hold.
My sister may have the disease. I don't - Less is more.
One of the Keroucs was On The Road, found in a prison book sale in NH. They were purging the library, had boxes and boxes of books on the side of the road for $1.00 each.
Took months to determine whether it was the true first, Viking was a bit strange with the markings. Finally got definitive confirmation. Unfortunately, only in "good" condition with no wrappers.
Had most of Tom Wolfe (a signed Bauhaus To Our House), and most of the A. Huxley novels (a signed Island and a limited/numbered/signed Point Counter Point). The Leary stuff I mostly bought from Michael Horowitz in Petaluma, CA ... Winona Ryder's father! It was a while ago, but I think he's still selling collectible books.
I used to collect books but I reached an overload point where I decided to keep only the ones I would actually read again. Now I read a book and immediately pass it on or donate it. I started purging "stuff" I collected after moving a couple of times and now I do it on a regular basis.
I still have "pack-rat" tendencies (inherited from my father who collected antiques and historical memorabilia) but I like my space too much and can't stand the knick-knacks that many women like to hoard.
Me too! My husband estimates that I have around 35,000 books. My collection is mainly nonfiction. My excuse is that as a teacher and writer I need the books. But the truth is I simply love books, especially old ones.
My name is 1rudeboy and I am a bookaholic.
In this guy's case, it truly is. He used to look forward to garbage day so he could drive around looking for stuff people had set out on the curb. He'd come in with stories about how he'd snagged some broken kid's toy or busted TV stand and be proud as a peacock.
I think a lot of that mentality started during the Depression, when "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without" was the guiding principle. A lot of people who lived through that or were influenced by it just cannot accept that we're living in a time of plenty.
Some of the worst are farmers. If you drive by a farm and don't see at least one junked car and a rusting collection of worn-out machinery, then it's a cinch the guy hasn't been farming long.
One day, I found a hardcover copy in stock at a used bookstore in the UK (on the internet). All the previous copies I had ever seen were paperback (Penguin?--yuck). Needless to say, I jumped on it . . . and opened the package to discover that someone had sent their Penguin to a binder and had it bound. The book itself is now in my permanent collection.
I was out maybe $15-20 bucks, but I learned that someone out there felt the way I do about this novel. Strange life.
I think the article does a good job of explaining it as a dementia.
. . . Damage in that brain area may make people lose control over their collecting. . . "Patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder and some other disorders, such as schizophrenia, Tourette's syndrome, and certain dementias can have similar pathological collecting behavior," says Anderson, in the news release.
What is really sad is when you see people who are aware of their illness, try to break it, but keep coming back to it -- losing family and friends along the way.
The article reminds me of that guy in nyc who had an apartment filled with stacks and piles of newspapers and magazines (probably some books in there, too). I think some stacks fell over on him and he was trapped for a couple of days. I believe he lived (but had to clean the place out). He might have had some paper cuts.
I could never understand that guy, or his mentor Gurdjieff, although I did give them a try.
Yes, it is, but I'm not cleaning out that massive pile of JUNK!
Actually, every chance I get I slip a few things into the garbage. That is dangerous though, because it is so hard to tell the difference between the junk and the "good" stuff.
And often it is just retrieved from the trash.