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When saving seems like the right choice : the role of utility and space in hoarding disorder Kellman-McFarlane, Kirstie

Abstract

Despite substantial advances in research on hoarding disorder over the past decade, the mechanisms driving hoarding behaviour remain poorly understood. It is well established that people who hoard feel justified in keeping objects that most individuals would consider worthless. However, there has been little empirical investigation of the decision-making process that provides people who hoard with justification to save objects that most people would discard. The current research proposed that people who hoard are routinely biased towards saving because they engage in a decision-making process that excessively prioritizes factors that favour keeping possessions (i.e., potential future utility) and neglects factors that would normatively encourage discarding (i.e., infrequent past usage, lack of household space, object dysfunction). This model builds on previous research suggesting that people who hoard are abnormally concerned about needing possessions in the future, and Frost and Hartl’s (1996) theoretical proposition that people who hoard have a higher threshold for discarding useless objects. To test this hypothesized model, the current research developed three novel decision- making tasks about household possessions: the Information Seeking Task, the Vignette- Based Task, and the Dysfunction Tolerance Scale. Once validated, these tasks were completed by a community sample (N = 174) of individuals with varying levels of hoarding symptoms. Analyses examined the relationship between task performance and hoarding as both a categorical (i.e., hoarding disorder (n = 53) vs. healthy control (n = 76)) and dimensional construct (i.e., severity of self-reported hoarding symptoms). As predicted, when making discarding decisions, hoarding participants were less responsive to information that would decrease the perceived value of objects, such as i infrequent use, poor condition, and lack of household space. The hoarding group also displayed a greater preference than the healthy control group for considering information that would promote saving (i.e., potential future uses of objects) when making discarding decisions. Although the results supported a consistent view of individual differences in discarding decision-making in hoarding, several of the effect sizes were small. The current findings provide several promising directions for future research. Moreover, the current work offers practical suggestions for enhancing current hoarding interventions that target maladaptive decision-making about possessions.

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