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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The emotional lives of objects : the role of affective anthropomorphism in hoarding disorder Stewart, Brent A.


Our lives are interwoven with artefacts of our own creation. While these artefacts are (objectively speaking) inanimate, research on anthropomorphism suggests that we sometimes perceive them to have a mind. For people who hoard this tendency to anthropomorphize their possessions is particularly heightened. Hoarding is characterized by difficulty discarding possessions of little to no apparent value, excessive acquisition of objects, and levels of clutter in the home that cause functional impairment and distress. While it is clear that strong emotional reactions to discarding objects play a role in the development and maintenance of hoarding, it is less clear what the nature of these emotions are. The heightened anthropomorphism associated with hoarding suggests that some of these emotions may be social in nature. People who hoard may find it difficult to part with possessions because they have empathy and concern for their objects. Since much of the research on anthropomorphism has focused on more cognitive aspects of social cognition, I created a scale – the Empathy and Concern for Objects scale (or ECO) – to measure this affective anthropomorphism. Across two studies (N=704), I assessed the psychometric properties of the ECO, its discriminant validity, association with hoarding, and I provide an initial test of models that could explain this association. The ECO demonstrated good psychometric properties, correlated moderately with other measures of anthropomorphism, predicted self-reported hoarding, and mediated the relationship with hoarding and negative affectivity, loneliness, and general empathy.

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