Self-control is the ability to maintain control over behaviors and emotional reactions. This process is especially helpful when individuals try to abstain from certain behaviors, such as drinking in excess or overeating, and also helps people adhere to other behaviors, such as exercising. In fact, research has shown that people who have eating problems and drug or alcohol issues tend to have lower levels of self-control than people without those difficulties. Hoarding is one such psychological condition that seems to be linked to low levels of self-control. Individuals who exhibit hoarding behaviors find it nearly impossible to get rid of seemingly unimportant items and tend to acquire things in excess. To determine if self-control impairments contribute to hoarding behaviors, Kiara R. Timpano of the Department of Psychology at the University of Miami recently conducted a series of studies that looked at hoarding symptoms.
In three separate examinations, Timpano found that self-control was linked to hoarding behaviors in that the lower the self-control of the participants, the more symptoms of hoarding they showed. Even when Timpani controlled for other psychological conditions, including depression and anxiety, self-control still remained a significant predictor of hoarding. Timpano tested the findings even further by comparing self-control levels in the participants with hoarding behaviors to those of individuals with social anxiety, generalized anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Still, the self-control in the hoarders was less than in the other participants. In sum, the results demonstrated that individuals with self-control deficits were more likely to save and less likely to discard items than individuals with higher levels of self-control. Although the results were gathered from a nonclinical sample that was not seeking help for hoarding tendencies, Timpani believes that the study still provides evidence of an indirect link between hoarding and self-control. She said, “What emerges from these considerations is a model where the self-control deck is stacked against the hoarder.” Future work on a broader sample of participants could shed light on a more direct relationship between self-control and hoarding behaviors that could aid in the development of treatment and prevention strategies.
Timpano, K. R., Schmidt, N. B. (2012). The relationship between self-control deficits and hoarding: A multimethod investigation across three samples. Journal of Abnormal Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029760
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