María Dolores Braquehais, M.D., Ph.D.
From animals to human beings, gathering enough possessions has been a way to survive in difficult periods (1,2). Before winter, a large number of species collect fruits and other foods in order to tolerate the hardest season. In evolutionary terms, collecting is an adaptive behavior. In fact, the food-hoarding paradigm has played a major role in the conceptual framework of numerous fields from ecology (e.g. plant-animal interactions) and evolution (e.g. the co-evolution of caching, spatial memory and the hippocampus) to psychology (e.g. memory and cognition), and neurobiology (e.g. neurogenesis and the neurobiology of learning and memory) (1).
However, collecting has changed through evolution. With regard to human beings, we do not know when gathering specific items became a selective accumulation related to concepts such as wealth, self-assurance, knowledge, etc. A collector is a person who collects things on purpose, either as a hobby or business, or for personal satisfaction, e.g., stamp, coin, or art collector. The aim of collecting is to organize and hierarchize a series of objects, not just to hoard them. Collected objects are frequently appreciated by other collectors, and become exchanged to enlarge the collection (3). In such instances, the act of collecting things represents voluntary, controlled, goal-directed, selective searching.
Collecting objects comprises a continuum from normality to disease. Some disorders are related to abnormal quantitative and/or qualitative collecting (4,5). Collecting can become pathological (from the Greek word pathos, “suffering”) when there is a persistent desire of acquisition and unsuccessful efforts to stop that behavior, a great deal of time is spent in activities related to it, and important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of it. Impulsive acquisitiveness could sometimes lead to economic and/or legal problems. Thus, pathological collecting could also be conceptualized as type of non-substance, behavioral addiction.
Pathological collecting has been related to two pathological conditions: compulsive buying and compulsive hoarding. While compulsive buyers are trapped into the buying process itself, compulsive hoarders suffer from the inability to discard the purchased items.
Pathological collecting can be considered as a subtype of hoarding compulsive buying as it shares features of both compulsive buying and compulsive hoarding. The aim of this type of hoarding compulsive buying is to show the wealth and improve self-confidence trough goods or a conscious and/or unconscious strategy to obtain pleasure through the possession of an object (3). There may be an association with symbolic (personal and cultural) affective investments of objects. Hypersentimentality or intense attachment to possessions (for example, an object might be felt to be very special, or a part of individuals with collecting/compulsive hoarding) has been proposed to play an important role in the development and maintenance of compulsive hoarding (6).
Hypersentimentality transferred to an object together with features of behavioral addiction and obsessive-compulsive symptoms are phenomenological aspects that should be taken into account when trying to achieve a wider comprehension of this type of behavior.
(1) Pravosudov VV, Smulders TV. Integrating ecology, psychology and neurobiology within a food-hoarding paradigm. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 2010 Mar 27;365(1542):859-67.
(2) Reinisch AI. Understanding the human aspects of animal hoarding. Can Vet J 2008 Dec;49(12):1211-4.
(3) Volle E, Beato R, Levy R, Dubois B. Forced collectionism after orbitofrontal damage. Neurology 2002 Feb 12;58(3):488-90.
(4) Jefferys D, Moore KA. Pathological hoarding. Aust Fam Physician 2008 Apr;37(4):237-41.
(5) Lahera G, Saiz-Gonzalez D, Martin-Ballesteros E, Perez-Rodriguez MM, Baca-Garcia E. [Differential diagnosis of hoarding behaviors]. Actas Esp Psiquiatr 2006 Nov;34(6):403-7.
(6) Grisham JR, Frost RO, Steketee G, Kim HJ, Tarkoff A, Hood S. Formation of attachment to possessions in compulsive hoarding. J Anxiety Disord 2009 Apr;23(3):357-61.