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Stuff: The psychological power of possessions | New Scientist
Hoarding isn’t new. It was referred to in Dante’s Inferno back in the 1300s. But it has only recently been distinguished from obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). In a 2012 brain-imaging study, for example, Tolin and his colleagues asked volunteers to hold an object they owned and decide whether to throw it away. Unlike people with OCD, hoarders showed overactivity in the anterior cingulate and insular cortex – areas of the brain that help determine importance, relevance and salience.

This manifests as perfectionism – hardly the word summoned by reality TV shows with dead cats mouldering under mountains of unworn clothes. Yet it is the growing consensus: people with impaired decision-making worry so much about wrong decisions that they keep the item for later appraisal. “It’s counter-intuitive,” says Tolin, “but it makes perfect sense.”

Hoarding also isn’t limited to Western society. Cultural idiosyncrasies may shape how it manifests, but “hoarding exists in virtually every culture”, says psychologist Randy Frost at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. We can all be reluctant to part with possessions. For hoarders, it becomes an “obsession with not losing a piece of your life”.
tidying  psychology 
53 minutes ago by cnk
What’s Causing the Rise of Hoarding Disorder? | JSTOR Daily
Acquisition is the first half of the disorder. People fall in love with stuff they don’t immediately need because it’s free, or it reminds them of a particular experience, or they might need it someday, or they could transform it in some cool way and increase its value. These objects accumulate, and people resist parting with them because of their perceived potential, or their sentimental significance, or their triggered memories, or because it’s wasteful to pile up a landfill with some perfectly good object somebody might need someday. Or because the person who’s hoarding simply doesn’t like being told what to do with their stuff.

Even if they want to downsize (which is rare), there’s the overwhelming difficulty of sorting through the mess. People with severe hoarding disorder tend to be easily distracted and have a hard time focusing and concentrating. Paradoxically, they also tend to be perfectionists, so they’ll put off making decisions rather than risk being wrong. And when it comes to their own stuff, they don’t categorize by type. Rather than see an object as a member of a large group (say, one of 42 black T-shirts), they see it as singular, unique, special. Each black T-shirt is perceived apart from the others and carries its own history, significance, and worth. It’s not even categorized for storage (folded with other black T-shirts in a T-shirt drawer), but rather placed on a pile and retrieved spatially (that particular black T-shirt lives about four inches from the bottom of the corner stack). This leads to a deep aversion to someone touching the piles or sifting through them, unwittingly destroying the invisible ordering system.

By 2020, more than 15% of the U.S. population is expected to be 65 or older—prime age for hoarding. According to the American Psychiatric Association, hoarding disorder affects three times as many people ages 55 to 94 as it does those ages 34 to 44. The disorder may show up in adolescence, but it’s often intensified in older age, exacerbated by bereavement, divorce, fuzzy thinking, or financial crisis.

People are living longer and aging at home, where they’re free to amass as much stuff as they like. Sometimes that tendency was held in check by a spouse who’s now gone. Sometimes what’s hoarded are the deceased spouse’s belongings. Or those of a child who has long since grown up and moved out. At a point where people are losing their independence—their work, status, connections, sensory acuity, physical strength, and mental sharpness—hoarding can be a way to shore oneself up, to feel safe, consoled, prepared.

An entire industry has sprung up around hoarding: psychologists, researchers, social workers, public health workers, professional organizers, fire marshals, biohazard cleanup companies, haulers. Why does it bother us so much? There’s an instinctive recoil from the pests and contaminants, of course, not to mention the dreaded fights and physical labor if the person who’s hoarding is a family member.

The disorder’s not just incomprehensible to the rest of us, but intractable. People who hoard are often intelligent, well-educated, and creative, and they don’t want to be “fixed.” If their home reaches a point where city officials force help, it’s likely to be filled again soon after it’s been emptied.
tidying  psychology 
1 hour ago by cnk
Your inner hoarder: Why letting go is so hard to do | New Scientist
Tolin and his colleagues used fMRI to explore what happens inside the brains of people with hoarding disorder when asked to decide whether to keep or discard their own letters and papers and others that did not belong to them. The team found excess activity in key frontal lobe areas involved in decision-making, such as those related to assigning values and making value judgements – but only when volunteers were making decisions about their own stuff. We may all have this problem to some extent. Since the 1980s, behavioural economists have been exploring the so-called endowment effect – the tendency to assign a higher value to things that belong to us than to those that do not. Even if you have only just acquired an object, the pain of losing it increases as a result of possessing it.

The problems of people with hoarding disorder extend beyond decisions about their own possessions, though. Last year, Christina Hough and colleagues at the University of California, San Francisco, asked people with hoarding disorder to carry out general cognitive and decision-making tasks, and found overactivity in some of the brain regions implicated in Tolin’s work.

Creative thinking
This group also showed increased activity in visual regions of the brain compared with other people. This fits with the idea that people who are inclined to hoard process information in a more complex way. Instead of organising their possessions efficiently, by category, they may keep track of objects visually and spatially. “Many of them seem to have a mental map of the pile in the middle of the room and can tell you, roughly, where things are in it,” says Frost. They also tend to pay attention to unusual details in objects, seeing beauty where others see mundaneness. A person with hoarding disorder might think of 10 different things to do with an old soda can, and use that to justify keeping it. “[They] do seem like very intelligent, very creative people,” says Tolin. “But a strength can eventually become a weakness.”

Hough’s team found something else intriguing, too. Brain activity indicated that people with hoarding disorder are highly aware of their potential to make a bad decision, even when it doesn’t really matter. This fits with the idea that, in spite of their disorganised clutter, they tend to have perfectionist qualities. They might intend to read all their magazines from cover to cover before getting rid of them, for example, or they might be hampered by their desire to dispose of objects in the best way possible.

Although each person with a hoarding problem is unique, there are certain patterns of thinking that clinicians often see. People who hoard often maintain that it’s better to save items that could be useful in the future than to dispose of them. Many talk about a sense of responsibility towards their things, wanting to make sure that they get properly recycled or donated or used to their fullest extent. They may keep things simply because they find them attractive. However, often they develop emotional attachments to objects, seeing them as mementos and even imbuing them with person-like qualities.

Read more: Stuff – The psychological power of possessions
These ways of thinking are not unique to hoarding disorder. “We all save things because we’re sentimentally attached, or we think they could be useful, or we think they are pretty. It’s just that someone with hoarding problems will carry that to an extreme,” says long-time hoarding researcher Gail Steketee of Boston University. Grisham agrees: “The kinds of beliefs of people with hoarding problems are similar to the ones everyone endorses, just at a much higher level, about many more things.”

It’s still not clear why some people develop a hoarding problem, but we do know that it tends to run in families, and there has been some evidence of genetic associations. “We think that you don’t inherit hoarding per se. You inherit something that makes you vulnerable to having a hoarding problem,” says Steketee.

So, what should you do if you think this applies to a family member or friend? “Don’t argue about hoarding, ever. You will lose,” says Tolin. Indeed, it can make things worse: when criticised, people who hoard often get defensive and become even more entrenched in their habits. Instead, encourage them to seek professional help. Cognitive behavioural treatments lasting several months can have “reasonably good results”, says Tolin. They work by instilling strategies for managing the condition. But they cannot cure it.

For anyone trying to address a hoarding problem, Tolin, Steketee and Frost have some advice in their book Buried in Treasures: Help for compulsive acquiring, saving, and hoarding. First you should examine your values and motivations for bringing objects into our homes. Then you should come up with rules about what you allow yourself to acquire. Organising your possessions in systematic ways will also help. But letting go of things will be a struggle. “It involves dealing with the beliefs you hold and the emotions you experience,” says Steketee. That’s not easy, but you can change. “It takes time. It’s like a muscle that you build.”
psychology  tidying 
1 hour ago by cnk
The disorientated ape: Why clever people can be terrible navigators | New Scientist
Experience tells us that some people are much better at these things than others, and science backs this up. Some of the most enlightening research has been done at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB). In a classic study published in 2005, Toru Ishikawa and Dan Montello of UCSB drove individual university students along a few routes in a residential neighbourhood they didn’t know with lots of hills and winding roads. Then they probed the students’ spatial understanding of the area. For example, standing at one landmark, students had to point in the direction of another one that they couldn’t see, or sketch a map of the neighbourhood.

“This research addresses the stereotype of men as better navigators than women”
There were marked differences in the performances of the 24 people tested. Some of them improved gradually over the 10 weekly sessions, but most either “got it” within a single session, or simply never did.

Further work has revealed that we seem to have reasonable insight into our own ability to make it home. That has been shown by the Santa Barbara Sense-of-Direction Scale, developed at UCSB’s Spatial Thinking Lab by Mary Hegarty and her colleagues. It asks people to indicate how much they agree or disagree with statements such as, “I am very good at giving directions”, “I have a poor memory for where I left things” and “I very easily get lost in a new city”. People’s scores on this scale correlate pretty well with how they actually perform in tests of navigation. However, their performances on these tasks don’t correlate with scores on intelligence tests. Sometimes they don’t even correlate with other kinds of spatial ability, such as mental rotation tasks, says Hegarty.

If our sense of direction is unrelated to general intelligence, what does explain the chasm between individuals? One way to get at this is to consider the two main approaches we use to navigate. Route-based navigation entails remembering landmarks on a particular journey: turn left at the church and then right at the park, and so on. It works pretty well in familiar towns or on regular journeys, but it is inflexible. What do you do if roadworks force you to take another route?

Then there is mental mapping, which involves creating – either consciously or unconsciously – a mental map of your environment, akin to an app map. This approach is sometimes considered superior because it is more flexible and allows you to take shortcuts where appropriate. However, it is also more cognitively demanding.

“Super-navigators such as migratory birds can sense Earth’s magnetic field”
Most of us use both tactics, but the trick is to get the balance right. Good navigators probably select the best strategy for the job automatically, says Hegarty. And this is where we can say something about the loaded question of whether men are better with directions than women.

There have been many studies, using a variety of tests of navigation, to probe this. Sometimes men and women perform equally well. However, in tests where men outperform women there are hints that this may be down to a preference among men for using mental mapping, compared with a preference among women for using route-based navigation.

In new research, for example, Hegarty and others put 140 UCSB students in a virtual reality maze with high concrete walls. The maze contained 12 objects, including a chair and a duck, placed at various junctions. After being taught a route through the maze, the volunteers were started off at one object and asked to navigate to another. Sometimes the learned route was the shortest path and at other times it was quicker to take a novel route. The researchers found that women were more likely to follow learned routes and to wander. Men showed a greater preference for trying to work out shortcuts, which calls for mental mapping. On average, males were faster and covered less ground in reaching their target.

Previous studies have also found that women are less likely than men to explore shortcuts. Why might that be? Sarah Creem-Regehr at the University of Utah has an idea. Her research shows that when navigating an unfamiliar virtual environment, women have a more cautious approach and tend to return more often to places they have already visited than men do. She suggests that in ancestral times, a woman who got lost would have been more vulnerable than a man. Her potential gain from taking a shortcut would arguably have been lower than a man’s, given the relatively higher risk to her life if she encountered an unexpected threat such as a predator’s den. It isn’t faster, but “it is safer to return to places you’ve already visited”, says Creem-Regehr.
maps  psychology 
2 hours ago by cnk
Horses remember if you smiled or frowned when they last saw you | New Scientist
Look at me
Horses prefer to look at negative and threatening sights with their left eye, and positive social stimuli with their right eye. In the study, when they saw a model they had seen frowning earlier, they spent more time looking with their left eye. They also exhibited more stress-related behaviours, like scratching and floor sniffing. In contrast, when they saw a model they had seen smiling earlier, they spent more time looking with their right eye.

Many other animals have shown an ability to remember human faces, including sheep and fish. Wild crows will hold a grudge for years against people who have treated them badly, and even teach other crows to mob their enemies.

However, the horses seem to form an opinion about people based only on their expression in a photograph. “That’s something we haven’t really seen in animals before,” says Proops.

“The horse family has the most expressive faces after the primates, so logically they pay attention to faces and expressions,” says Frans de Waal at Emory University in Atlanta. “Horses surrounded by people have ample opportunity to learn what our expressions mean.”

Journal reference: Current Biology, DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2018.03.035
horse  psychology  Science 
2 hours ago by cnk
Strange answers to the psychopath test | Jon Ronson - YouTube
Is there a definitive line that divides crazy from sane? With a hair-raising delivery, Jon Ronson, author of The Psychopath Test, illuminates the gray areas between the two. (With live-mixed sound by Julian Treasure and animation by Evan Grant.)
psychology  english  2012  video  youtube 
11 hours ago by ezequiel

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