UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Compulsive hoarding and the theory of value : an economic model of excessive accumulation Welsted, Alison C.


Hoarding disorder is a complex form of psychopathology that is characterized by excessive accumulation of items and extreme difficulty parting with possessions. It affects 2% to 6% of the population and is associated with significant distress, impairment, and cost to affected individuals, their family and friends, and society. Hoarding disorder is a new diagnosis. Theoretical models and treatment protocols are, therefore, emergent. Valuing of items is notably abnormal in hoarding disorder and the theory of value from economics provides a suitable framework for examining this phenomenon. Individuals with hoarding disorder accumulate a much larger number of items than do most people, and many of those items are objectively worthless. Revealed preference suggests that excessive accumulation of items can be explained by overvaluation of items relative to other goods. Also, in hoarding, often multiple units of the same item are kept when one would suffice. This could be explained by attenuated diminishing marginal value. Finally, hoarding is associated with extreme difficulty parting with possessions, which is consistent with an enhanced endowment effect. The current research assembles the phenomena of abnormal valuing into a coherent theoretical model and conducts initial empirical investigations to test predictions from the theory. Valuing of everyday household items, diminishing marginal value, and the endowment effect were examined among 128 participants: 43 with hoarding disorder, 46 with subclinical levels of hoarding symptoms, and 36 healthy controls. Participants attended one lab session and completed a clinical interview, computer-based questionnaires, and three valuing tasks. Data were analysed using ANOVA and regression models. Hoarding symptoms and cognitions were both positive predictors of the number of no-cost and sentimental items that participants attributed with some value. Hoarding was a unique predictor of attributing value to sentimental items, whereas, hoarding was confounded with other aspects of psychopathology in predicting valuing of no-cost items. These results suggest that individuals with hoarding disorder are particularly adept at finding value in items that others would consider to be worthless. This could be an important focus for treatment. Avenues for future research are suggested in the areas of hoarding disorder, behavioural economics, and item ownership.

Item Citations and Data


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