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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Clarifying the relationship between compulsive hoarding and categorization deficits Kellman-McFarlane, Kirstie


In 1996, Frost and Hartl proposed that the excessive clutter and difficulty discarding objects characteristic of compulsive hoarding disorder may be partially explained by a cognitive deficit in the ability to efficiently categorize objects. Subsequent studies that empirically investigated Frost and Hartl’s (1996) proposed categorization deficit have been highly inconsistent in terms of whether this deficit exists and, if so, whether it is dependent on symptom severity and the personal significance of objects. The current study sought to help clarify the inconsistent pattern of past research by replicating and extending a study by Luchian, McNally, and Hooley (2007) to contrast population and task differences between previous studies. The current study compared healthy controls (n = 35), individuals with subclinical symptoms of compulsive hoarding (n = 30), and individuals with clinical symptoms of compulsive hoarding disorder (n = 20), on sorting tasks involving participants’ personal possessions, typically hoarded objects, and the collection of trivial objects employed in the Luchian et al. sorting task. Results suggest that both the clinical and subclinical groups show tendencies towards underinclusive categorization. However, this effect was not strong. A larger difference was found between groups on distress and latency; the clinical group took longer to complete sorting tasks and exhibited greater distress while engaging in sorting tasks than both other groups. These results suggest that traditional sorting tasks may not be sufficient for examining categorization difficulties in compulsive hoarding, and that behavioral avoidance is a more plausible mechanism for the disorganization of hoarded homes than is underinclusive categorization.

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