Neural mechanisms of decision making in hoarding disorder

David F. Tolin, Michael C. Stevens, Anna L. Villavicencio, Melissa M. Norberg, Vince D. Calhoun, Randy O. Frost, Gail Steketee, Scott L. Rauch, Godfrey D. Pearlson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

91 Scopus citations


Context: Hoarding disorder (HD), previously considered a subtype of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), has been proposed as a unique diagnostic entity in DSM-5. Current models of HD emphasize problems of decision-making, attachment to possessions, and poor insight, whereas previous neuroimaging studies have suggested abnormalities in frontal brain regions. Objective: To examine the neural mechanisms of impaired decision making in HD in patients with well-defined primary HD compared with patients with OCD and healthy control subjects (HCs). Design: We compared neural activity among patients with HD, patients with OCD, and HCs during decisions to keep or discard personal possessions and control possessions from November 9, 2006, to August 13, 2010. Setting: Private, not-for-profit hospital. Participants: A total of 107 adults (43 with HD, 31 with OCD, and 33 HCs). Main Outcome Measures: Neural activity as measured by functional magnetic resonance imaging in which actual real-time and binding decisions had to be made about whether to keep or discard possessions. Results: Compared with participants with OCD and HC, participants with HD exhibited abnormal activity in the anterior cingulate cortex and insula that was stimulus dependent. Specifically, when deciding about items that did not belong to them, patients with HD showed relatively lower activity in these brain regions. However, when deciding about items that belonged to them, these regions showed excessive functional magnetic resonance imaging signals compared with the other 2 groups. These differences in neural function correlated significantly with hoarding severity and self-ratings of indecisiveness and "not just right" feelings among patients with HD and were unattributable to OCD or depressive symptoms. Conclusions: Findings suggest a biphasic abnormality in anterior cingulate cortex and insula function in patients with HD related to problems in identifying the emotional significance of a stimulus, generating appropriate emotional response, or regulating affective state during decision making.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)832-841
Number of pages10
JournalArchives of general psychiatry
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2012
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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