I'm trying to understand why people have sometimes have the ability to sever ties with valuable connections, e.g., people that have up until that time meant a lot to them. Colloquially, people use the term "throw it all away", and I'm wondering if there's any truth to that.

Hoarders, on the other hand, can place a lot of value on objects that are generally considered to be refuse.

Looking into hoarding and it's associated disorders, I found some very recent information in Wang et al (2012) regarding some of the neural substrates of acquisitive behavior (which forms some of the physiological basis of hoarding). These researchers found activation in the orbitalfrontal cortex (OFC), a common substrate of obsessive compulsive disorder, associated with acquisitiveness, and activation in the nucleus accumbens (a motor nucleus within the basal ganglia often associated with addictive behaviors) when possessive participants valued a popular "hot" item. There was also activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, which is associated with monetary valuation of a stimulus, during "disposal" of items that they had acquired during the experiment.

Firstly, is the treatment of people like property an earmark of any notable (Axis II or otherwise) DSM disorder?

Secondly, in the case where we assume those that do treat others as property to be acquired and disposed of accordingly, do these same anatomical regions in the OFC govern this behavior?

Wang, J.M., Seidler, R.D., et al (2012),The neural bases of acquisitiveness: Decisions to acquire and discard everyday goods differ across frames, items, and individuals. Neuropsychologia, 50:939– 948

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ As your examples show, viewing something as a possession has no relation to whether or not you value it (the hoarder) or let it go easily (the wastrel). If you translate the examples to romantic relationships, the hoarder would be someone who sticks with their spouse until death, no matter how bad the relationship. This is in fact our ideal! Also, some popular theories view romantic relationships as systems of exchange, so they are seen in psychological theory as basically materialistic. From that perspective, the real question is: Is romantic love ever selfless? And if it is, why? $\endgroup$
    – user3116
    Aug 21, 2013 at 11:29

2 Answers 2


I can't speak to your first question, but I think the second question could be profitably reframed. The orbitofrontal cortex seems to represent incentive/reward value of primary sensory information and is thus linked to the "hot" decision-making system, which manages decisions where there is a gain/loss of reward at stake or risk--this would necessarily cover property and personal relationships, which are both sources of reward. So it's less that the part of the brain that manages property may sometimes also manage personal relationships, and more that this particular part of the brain is responsible for representing incentive or reward options, which are relevant to different kinds of rewards, including property and people.

Reference (just a good place to start, really): Rolls ET, Grabenhorst F. The orbitofrontal cortex and beyond: from affect to decision-making. Prog Neurobiol. 2008 Nov;86(3):216-44. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.pneurobio.2008.09.001


There is an element of selfish antisociality in the alternately possessive and dismissive social behavior you describe. This may imply or otherwise resemble symptoms of:

  • An unhealthy attachment style due to the lack of relational investment
  • Borderline personality / emotional dysregulation disorder, which is marked by love/hate relationships
  • Any of the dark triad traits (see Jakobwitz & Egan, 2006) due to the selfish, manipulative lack of empathy:
    • "Machiavellianism is characterized by manipulation and exploitation of others, a cynical disregard for morality, and a focus on self-interest and deception."
    • "Narcissism is characterized by grandiosity, pride, egotism, and a lack of empathy."
    • "Psychopathy is characterized by enduring antisocial behavior, impulsivity, selfishness, callousness, and remorselessness."

Emotional dysregulation / borderline, narcissistic, and antisocial (which very closely resembles psychopathy, especially secondary) personality disorders are all Axis II disorders, so I'd say yes, the behavior you describe is a warning sign of such plausible psychopathologies.

Dysfunction in the OFC may play a role in the development of antisocial disorders, including psychopathy. An excellent review of relevant research is freely available (Séguin, 2004). This review also mentions OCD, so I think it might just have everything you're looking for!


- Jakobwitz, S., & Egan, V. (2006). The dark triad and normal personality traits. Personality and Individual Differences, 40(2), 331–339.
- Séguin, J. R. (2004). Neurocognitive elements of antisocial behavior: Relevance of an orbitofrontal cortex account. Brain and Cognition, 55(1), 185–197. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3283581/.


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