The frontal lobe is an important brain region that plays a part in hoarding behavior.
People who tend to accumulate clutter have difficulties with their frontal lobes’ executive function, which involves a set of mental skills that helps manage time, focus attention, and generally get things done.
Research on hoarders has demonstrated deficits of sustained attention, spatial planning, memory, and organizational strategies.
These people also have limited mental flexibility, another characteristic that is controlled by the frontal lobe.
Dr. Sharon Morein-Zamir and her collaborators at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom studied cognitive abilities in volunteers who met diagnostic criteria for OCD and severe hoarding. The researchers compared those subjects with a second group that did not have OCD but did meet diagnostic criteria for hoarding disorder.
The volunteers performed a variety of mental tests assessing frontal lobe skills involving inhibitory control (the ability to focus on relevant stimuli in the presence of irrelevant stimuli), cognitive flexibility, spatial planning, and decision making.
Compared to control subjects, hoarders with OCD showed deficits involving inhibitory control, cognitive flexibility, and spatial planning.
The group with hoarding disorder and no OCD demonstrated the same cognitive profile on these measures.
Even people without OCD or a hoarding disorder are affected by a crowded desk, closet, or living space. Such conditions can impede ability to focus attention and process information.
When presented with multiple simultaneous stimuli, the brain’s neural circuits tend to compete in an inefficient pattern.
Princeton University researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and other tests to map the brain’s responses to organized and disorganized stimuli.
They concluded that clearing clutter improves a person’s ability to focus attention and process information.
There is compelling evidence indicating that environmental clutter hampers the brain’s capacity to process information because the clutter represents distracting visual information.
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