Home Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy Study Reveals Reducing Loneliness Mitigates Object Attachment in Hoarding Disorder

Study Reveals Reducing Loneliness Mitigates Object Attachment in Hoarding Disorder

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A recent study has shed light on the compensatory mechanisms at play in hoarding disorder (HD), revealing that reducing loneliness can significantly lessen individuals’ attachment to objects. The study, carried out by researchers from Florida State University, the University of Miami, and the University of New South Wales, focused on the connection between object attachment and loneliness, a crucial HD trait. The findings were published in the journal Current Psychology.

A persistent inability to let go of possessions, which results in cluttered living spaces and serious distress or impairment, is the hallmark of hoarding disorder. The disorder affects approximately 2.5% of the population and is often associated with high levels of loneliness, depression, and social anxiety​​.

The research is grounded in attachment theory, which posits that early relationships with carers shape individuals’ expectations of others and their emotional regulation. When carers are perceived as unreliable, individuals may develop insecure attachment styles and seek comfort from inanimate objects instead of people. This compensatory process is thought to be a significant factor in the development of hoarding behaviours​​.

The study involved 298 participants recruited via an online platform, all of whom exhibited high levels of hoarding symptoms. Participants were randomly assigned to either a loneliness intervention group or an active control group engaged in health education. Both groups completed measures of hoarding severity, loneliness, and object attachment at the beginning and end of the study.

The loneliness intervention included activities designed to increase social interaction and reduce feelings of loneliness. After two weeks, results showed that those in the loneliness intervention group experienced small but significant reductions in loneliness and attachment to new objects. Specifically, the intervention led to a notable decrease in insecure object attachment, highlighting the potential of addressing loneliness to mitigate one of the core symptoms of HD​​.

The study’s findings support the hypothesis that loneliness drives individuals with HD to form attachments to objects as a compensatory mechanism. By reducing loneliness, it is possible to decrease the emotional significance of these attachments. This aligns with previous research suggesting that unmet social needs are a critical factor in the development and maintenance of hoarding behaviours​​.

Despite its promising findings, the study has several limitations. The intervention was relatively short, and the follow-up period was brief, which may have limited the extent of observed changes in loneliness and object attachment. Additionally, the study relied on self-reported measures, which can introduce biases. Future research should explore longer and more intensive interventions, as well as use objective measures of object attachment.

The study focused solely on loneliness as a factor contributing to object attachment. Other aspects of unmet relatedness needs, such as interpersonal conflict and insecure interpersonal attachment, were not addressed. Future studies should consider these factors to provide a more comprehensive understanding of the compensatory processes in HD​​.

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