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Fanable Collector: A personal insight into the psychology of a record-collecting completist

Regular readers of my blog will know that I have described myself as a music obsessive and that I am an avid record and CD collector. When I get into a particular band or artist I try to track down every song that artist has ever done – irrespective of whether I actually like the song or not. I have to own every recording. Once I have collected every official recording I then start tracking down unofficially released recordings via bootlegs and fan websites. I have my own books and printed lists (i.e., complete discographies by specific bands and solo artists) that I meticulously tick off with yellow highlighter pen. (In some ways, I am no different to a trainspotter that ticks off train numbers in a book).

I wouldn’t say I am a particularly materialistic person but I love knowing (and feeling) that I have every official recorded output by my favourite musicians. My hobby can sometimes cost me a lot of money (I am a sucker for deluxe box sets) although most of the time I can track down secondhand items and bargains on eBay and Amazon relatively cheaply (plus I have downloaded thousands of bootleg albums for free from the internet). Tracking down an obscure release is as much fun as the listening of the record or CD (i.e., the ‘thrill of the chase’). Almost every record I have bought over the last decade is in mint condition and unplayed (as many records now come with a code to download the record bought as a set of MP3s).

As a record collector, one of the things that make the hobby both fun and (at the same time somewhat) infuriating is the number of different versions of a particular song that can end up being released. As a collector I have an almost compulsive need to own every version of a song that an artist has committed to vinyl, CD, tape or MP3. However, I am grateful that I am not the type of collector that tries to own every physical record/CD released in every country. (My love of The Beatles would mean I would be bankrupt). I only buy releases in other countries if it contains music that is exclusive to that country (e.g., many Japanese CD releases contain one or two tracks that may not be initially released in any other country).

For most artists that I collect from the 1960s to early 1980s, it is fairly easy to collect every officially released song. Artists like The Beatles may have up three to four official versions of a particular song (the single version, the album version, a demo version, a version from another country with a different edit, etc.). With bootleg recordings, the number of versions might escalate to 30 or 40 versions by including live versions, every studio take, etc.). It can become almost endless if you start to collect bootleg recordings of every gig by your favourite artists. (I know this from personal experience).

It was during my avid record buying days in the early 1980s that the ‘completist’ in me started to take hold. Some of you reading this may recall that in 1984, Frankie Goes To Hollywood (FGTH) became only the second band ever to reach the UK No.1 with their first three singles – ‘Relax’, ‘Two Tribes’ and ‘The Power of Love’ (the first band being – not The Beatles, but their Liverpool friends and rivals – Gerry and The Pacemakers). One of the reasons that FGTH got to (and stayed for weeks at) number one was there were thousands of people like me that bought countless different versions of every variation of every single released. For instance, not only did I buy the standard 7”, 12”, cassettes, and picture discs of both ‘Relax’ and ‘Two Tribes’, I bought every new mix that FGTH producer Trevor Horn put out.

Every week, all of the money that I earned from my Saturday job working in Irene’s Pantry would go on buying records from Castle Records in Loughborough. I didn’t care about clothes, sweets, books, etc. All I cared about outside of school was music. Some of my hard earned money went on buying the NME (New Musical Express) every Thursday along with buying other music weeklies if my favourite bands were featured (Melody Maker, Record Mirror, Sounds and Smash Hits to name just a few).

When I got to university to study Psychology at the University of Bradford, my love of music and record buying increased. Not only did I discover other like-minded people but Bradford had a great music scene. One of the first things I did when I got to university was become a journalist for the student magazine (Fleece). Within seven months I was one of the three Fleece editors and I was in control of all the arts and entertainment coverage. The perks of my (non-paid) job was that (a) I got to go to every gig at Bradford University for free, (b) I was sent lots of free records to review for the magazine (all of which I kept and some of which I still have), and (c) I got to see every film for free in return for writing a review. I couldn’t believe my luck.

During this time (1984-1987) my three favourite artists were The Smiths, Depeche Mode, and (my guilty pleasure) Adam Ant. I devoured everything they released (especially The Smiths). As a record collector I not only loved the Smiths music but I loved the record covers, the messages scratched on the vinyl run-out grooves, and Morrissey’s interviews in the music press. It was also during this period that I discovered other bands that later went onto become some of my favourite bands of all time (Propaganda and The Art of Noise being the two that most spring to mind). As a Depeche Mode fan, collecting every track they have ever done has become harder and harder (and more expensive) as they were arguably one of the pioneers of the remix. Although Trevor Horn and the ZTT label took remixing singles to a new level for record collectors, it was Depeche Mode that arguably carried on the baton into the 1990s.

During 1987-1990, my record buying subsided through financial necessity. I was doing my PhD at the University of Exeter and the little money I had went on food, rent, and travel (to see my then girlfriend who lived over 300 miles away). I simply didn’t have the money to buy and collect records the way I had before. Buying singles stopped but I would still buy the occasional album. This was the only period in my life that I didn’t really buy music magazines. (My thinking was that if I didn’t know what was being released I couldn’t feel bad about not buying it).

In the summer of 1990 I landed my first proper job as a Lecturer in Psychology at Plymouth University. For the first time in my life I had a healthy disposable income. My first purchase with my first pay cheque was an expensive turntable and CD player. I also bought loads of CD albums on my growing wish list. What I loved about my hobby was that I could do it simultaneously with my job (i.e., I could listen to my favourite bands at the same time as preparing my lectures or writing my research papers – something that I still do to this day).

When CD singles became popular in the 1990s I became a voracious buyer of music again. Typically bands would release a single across multiple formats with each format containing tracks exclusive to the record, CD and/or cassette. Artists like Oasis and Morrissey (two of my favourites during the 1990s) would release singles in three or four formats (7” vinyl, 10”/12” vinyl, CD single, and cassette single) and I would buy all formats (and to some extent I still do). It was a collector’s paradise but I could afford it. In fact, not only could I afford to buy all the music I wanted, I could buy all the monthly music magazines at the time (Vox, Select, Record Collector, Q, and then a little later Uncut and Mojo), and I could go to gigs and still have money left over.

Since the mid-1990s only one thing has really changed in relation to my music-buying habits and that is there are less and less new bands that I have become a fan of. I still buy lots of new music but I don’t tend to collect the work of contemporary bands. However, the music industry has realized there are huge amounts of money to be made from their back catalogues. I am the type of music buyer that will happily buy a ‘classic’ album again as long as it has an extra disc or two of demo versions, rarities, remixes, and obscure B-sides, that will help me extend and/or complete music collections by the bands I love. Over this year I have already bought box sets by The Beatles, The Velvet Underground, Throbbing Gristle, and David Bowie (to name just four). I have become a retro-buyer but I still crave “new” music by my favourite artists. Yes, I love music and it takes up a lot of my life. However, I am not addicted. My obsessive love of music adds to my life rather than detracts from it – and on that criterion alone I will happily be a music collector until the day that I die.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Belk, R.W. (1995). Collecting as luxury consumption: Effects on individuals and households. Journal of Economic Psychology, 16(3), 477-490.

Belk, R.W. (2001). Collecting in a Consumer Society. New York: Routledge.

Moist, K. (2008). “To renew the Old World”: Record collecting as cultural production. Studies in Popular Culture, 31(1), 99-122.

Pearce, S. (1993). Museums, Objects, and Collections. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.

Pearce, S. (1998). Contemporary Collecting in Britain. London: Sage.

Reynolds, S. (2004). Lost in music: Obsessive music collecting. In E. Weisbard (Ed.), This Is Pop: In Search of the Elusive at Experience Music Project (pp.289-307). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

A world of disc-overy: Record collecting as an addiction

Regular readers of my blog will know that (a) some of my friends describe me as a music obsessive and (b) that I have written blogs on both compulsive hoarding and ‘collecting’ as an addiction‘ (including a separate blog on murderabilia). Today’s blog briefly looks at a really interesting 2008 paper I came across on ‘record collecting’ as an addiction written by Professor Kevin Moist in the journal Studies in Popular Culture. (Moist also has a new co-edited book – Contemporary Collecting: Objects, Practices, and the Fate of Things – that has just been published by Scarecrow Press).

According to research papers and books by Dr. Russell Belk, around one in three people in the United States collects something – yet one of the observations that Moist makes is that collectors (in general and not just relating to record collectors) are often portrayed negatively as obsessive, socially maladjusted oddballs in thrall to acquisitive drives”. I have to admit that those closest to me certainly see my passionate interest in collecting music by certain recording artists as “obsessive” (although arguably not “socially maladjusted”). I’ve also been described as “no different to a trainspotter” (but said in such a way that it obviously relates to something negative).

Research by Dr. Susan Pearce (published in her 1998 book Contemporary Collecting in Britain) shows that collectors as a group are “quite average, socially speaking”. Additionally, Dr. Belk claims that the image of a ‘collector’ acts as “an unwitting metaphor for our own fears of unbridled materialism in the marketplace”. Belk then goes on to say that his research has led him to the conclusion that collectors cherish things about objects “that few others appreciate” and are not necessarily materialistic in their motivations for collecting. Belk also talks about collecting behaviour being on a continuum of the ‘heroic passionate’ collector at one end of the spectrum and the ‘obsessive-compulsive type’ at the other with most collectors falling somewhere between the two. I briefly dealt with the motivations to collect things in my previous blog but in her book Museums, Objects, and Collections, Dr. Pearce argues collecting falls into three distinct (but sometimes overlapping) types. As Moist summarizes:

“One of these she calls ‘souvenirs’, items or objects that have significance primarily as reminders of an individual’s or group’s experiences. The second mode is what she calls ‘fetish objects’ (conflating the anthropological and psychological senses of the term), relating primarily to the personality of the collector; the collector’s own desires lead to the accumulation of objects that feed back into those desires, with the collection playing a central role in defining the personality of the collector, memorializing the development of a personal interest or passion. The third mode, ‘systematics’, has the broader goal of creating a set of objects that expresses some larger meaning. Systematic collecting involves a stronger element of consciously presenting an idea, seen from a particular point of view and expressed via the cultural world of objects”.

When it comes to record collecting, I appear to most fit the second (i.e., fetish) type. The artists that I collect are an extension of my own personality and say something about me. My tastes are diverse and eclectic (to say the least) and range from the obvious ‘classic’ artists (Beatles, David Bowie, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Lou Reed), the not so obvious (Adam Ant, The Smiths, Bauhaus, Heaven 17, Depeche Mode, Gary Numan, Divine Comedy), the arguably obscure (Art of Noise, John Foxx, Propaganda, David Sylvian, Nico) and the downright extreme (Throbbing Gristle, Velvet Underground). Arguably, most people’s conceptions of record collecting (if they are not collectors themselves) are likely to be based on media and cultural representations of such individuals (such as John Cusack and Jack Black in High Fidelity, or Steve Buscemi in Ghost World). I agree with Professor Moist who asserts:

“Most record collectors fit well within Belk’s definition, passionately acquiring sets of records both as objects and cultural experiences. As with most types of collecting, the ‘thrill of the chase’ is a major part of the experience…[However] today, with eBay and other online resources, the amount of time required for the hunt has been reduced, and collecting is also less of a face-to-face social activity since one can search in private rather than actually traveling to find records…Music writer Simon Reynolds notes that record collecting also ‘involves the accumulation of data as well as artifacts’, a factor that can be seen in magazines devoted to record collecting such as Goldmine and Record Collector, and that has only increased as collecting has gone online”.

The above paragraph could have been written about me. I am one of those record collectors that collect as much for the cultural experience as for the object itself. I have loads of mint condition singles and LPs that I haven’t even played (but listen to the music on my i-Pod). I have bought Record Collector magazine every month for over 30 years and have never missed an issue. Every month I buy a wide range of other music magazines including Mojo, Q, Uncut, Vive Le Rock, Classic Rock and Classic Pop (as well as the occasional issue of Rolling Stone, NME, The Wire, Future Music and Shindig). In short, almost a lot of my disposable income goes on buying music or reading music. My records, CDs and music magazines can be found in almost every room in my house. To me, my collection is priceless (and I mean that in an emotional sense rather than a financial one). I am an archivist of the artists I collect as much as a collector. Professor Moist comments that: “While such fanatical and obsessed collectors do exist…they are clearly outliers on the scale of collecting passion…For such people collecting is a real problem”. However, I am a true fanatic of music but don’t believe I am addicted (based on my own criteria). My love of music and collecting it adds to my life rather than takes away from it. As Moist also notes (and which I again wholeheartedly agree:

“Most record collectors collect as much for the content as for the object: one is far less likely to find a collector whose collecting criteria is ‘records with yellow labels’ than to find one whose focus is ‘west coast jazz’ or ‘pre-war blues’. Collectors might follow particular artists (Charlie Parker, the Sex Pistols), musical genres (reggae, soul, classical), records from certain cultural/geographic areas (New Orleans, South Africa), records from specific labels (Sun, Stax, Rough Trade), records for special types of use (sound effects, ‘library’ music), records from a historical era (the 1960s), records with covers by particular graphic artists, special editions of records (first/original pressings are again popular), particular types of records (45s, LPs), records that embody memory on a more personal scale (those played by a favorite local DJ, or listened to in one’s youth, etc.), and many more besides. For many collectors, records’ status as bearers of personal and/or collective meaning is most significant”.

Moist’s chapter also features a number of case studies of people that appear to be addicted to record collecting – an activity that completely takes over (and conflicts with) almost every area of their lives. Moist concludes:

“Is there something about recorded music that lends itself to this sort of collecting? It could be that records’ dual levels of significance – objects themselves, and materializations of sound – make such types of activity more likely, that the status and possibilities of the object itself provide for certain approaches to collecting it…more research is needed on other types of collecting before such conclusions can be reached, though certainly the era of mass production has seen popular collecting expand greatly, and the digital era should see even further changes”.

I (for one) would love to carry out research in the area of record collecting but I guess I would get little research funding to carry out such studies. To me, the psychology of record collecting is fascinating but I know only too well that most others I know simply cannot fathom what it is I love about music and collecting music.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Belk, R.W. (1995). Collecting as luxury consumption: Effects on individuals and households. Journal of Economic Psychology, 16(3), 477-490.

Belk, R.W. (2001). Collecting in a Consumer Society. New York: Routledge.

Moist, K. (2008). “To renew the Old World”: Record collecting as cultural production. Studies in Popular Culture, 31(1), 99-122.

Pearce, S. (1993). Museums, Objects, and Collections. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.

Pearce, S. (1998). Contemporary Collecting in Britain. London: Sage.

Reynolds, S. (2004). Lost in music: Obsessive music collecting. In E. Weisbard (Ed.), This Is Pop: In Search of the Elusive at Experience Music Project (pp.289-307). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Better collate than never: Can collecting be an addiction?

In a previous blog on bibliomania (i.e., an obsessive-compulsive disorder associated with the collecting and hoarding of books), I briefly mentioned that collecting more generally could perhaps be addictive for some people. Writing in a 2006 issue of the International Journal of Psychoanalysis, Dr. Peter Subkowski wrote that the urge to collect is a ubiquitous phenomenon that has anthropological, sociobiological, and individual psychodynamic roots. Dr. Russell Belk writing in a 1991 issue of the Journal of Social Behavior and Personality described collectors of mass-produced objects as falling into one of two main types: the taxonomic collector who attempts to own an example of every type of a series of items produced, and the aesthetic collector who simply gathers items because they are pleasing in some way.

So what are the motivations for collecting? In a 1991 issue of the Journal of Social Behavior and Personality, Dr. Ruth Formanek suggested five common motivations for collecting. These were: (i) extension of the self (e.g., acquiring knowledge, or in controlling one’s collection); (ii) social (finding, relating to, and sharing with, like-minded others); (iii) preserving history and creating a sense of continuity; (iv) financial investment; and (v), an addiction or compulsion. Formanek claimed that the commonality to all motivations to collect was a passion for the particular things collected. One of the prime researchers in the ‘collecting’ field is Dr. Russell Belk who has written many papers and chapters on the topic. In a 1991 book chapter, Dr. Belk (along with Melanie Wallendorf, John F. Sherry, Jr., and Morris B. Holbrook) noted that:

“In examining literary and social science treatments of collecting…some regard it as a passion, others as a disease. It is frequently described as a pleasurable activity that can have some unpleasant consequences. In its pleasurable aspect, collecting embodies the characteristics of flow…It is an optimal experience that is psychologically integrating and socially beneficial. In its darker aspect, collecting is an activity over which many consumers fear losing control. Whether likened to idolatry or illness, collectors acknowledge the very real possibility that collecting can become addictive. Danet and Katriel (1990) suggest that the seemingly self-deprecating admission of addiction to one’s collection can be a way of disclaiming responsibility for uninhibited collecting. At the same time they recognize that ‘serious’ collectors relish their ability to freely express passion in their collecting activity. What apparently is being negotiated in the area between passion and addiction is the definition of whether the collector controls or is controlled by the activity of collecting”.

The chapter also claimed that the tendency to pursue an altered state of consciousness produced by any ritual activity “whether behaviorally via collecting, or pharmacologically via chemical use” is cross-culturally universal. Obviously they acknowledged that most collectors are not addicts but claimed there was “compelling evidence of its pervasiveness in the observations of others” based in self-report surveys, and the labels by which collectors in their research studies described themselves (e.g., “magazineaholic”, “getting a Mickey Mouse fix”, “print Junkie”). Brenda Danet and Tamara Katriel claimed some of their collectors’ said it was “a disease”. They also reported that Sigmund Freud amassed a large collection of 2,300 Roman, Greek, Egyptian, Assyrian, and Chinese antiquities that eventually numbered approximately 2300 and described his collecting passion as “an addiction second in intensity only to his nicotine addiction“. Based on their interviews with collectors, the chapter then went on to claim:

“Although almost any behavior can become addictive, the pattern of behavior characteristic of collectors makes it especially prone to addiction. Most collectors interviewed mentioned the search for additions to a collection as the central activity of their collecting behavior. Rather than spend time examining or organizing items that are already in the collection, collectors prefer to search or shop for additions to the collection. Search behavior may be compulsively and ritualistically enacted. Acquiring rather than possessing provides the temporary fix for the addict. A sense of longing and desire — a feeling that something is missing in life — is temporarily met by adding to the collection. But this is a temporary fix, a staving off of withdrawal, followed by a feeling of emptiness and anxiety that is addressed by searching for more. Shopping and searching are the ritualized means by which the collector obtains a sense of competence and mastery in life. These activities are the bittersweet consequences of experiencing longing in the arena of the marketplace”.

They also noted that searching and shopping for collection items highlight the ritualized aspects (i.e., it is patterned and repetitive). They provided the example of a Barbie doll collector that spent considerable time at doll shows that had specific rules that guided his doll buying (e.g., having the dealer completely undress then redress the doll to allow him to see if any part of the body is damaged). They also reported that items for their collection found in the search were often seen as having irresistible power over the person. One collector of antique bronzes was quoted as saying “I just had to have it. It had to be mine”. Searching for such items are “not the only addictive focus for collectors”. Belk and colleagues reported that:

Compulsive attention to and control over the objects in the collection provides an additional source of feelings of control and mastery –important feelings to an addict. For example, one interpretation of the propensity of collectors to will their collections to museums is that, by doing so, they retain a certain sense of control of the collection by insuring that it will not fall into the hands of another collector. Collecting activity allows a collector to avoid other aspects of life. It is a form of withdrawal from other aspects of life that is nevertheless often positively sanctioned…On the whole, collecting, particularly for the addict, involves the individual in a repetitive, predictable pattern of behavior which can provide a form of solace for someone who is troubled by living in an unpredictable world”.

In a 1995 paper in the Journal of Economic Psychology, Dr. Belk carried out in-depth interviews with 200 collectors. He claimed that for most, collecting was a highly beneficial activity. However, he also noted there were extreme cases where collecting was found to be addictive and dysfunctional for the affected individuals and their families. He also wrote that:

“Collectors often refer to themselves, only half in jest, as suffering from a mania, a madness, an addiction, a compulsion, or an obsession. Because collecting is generally a socially approved activity, no one is likely to treat such a confession as stigmatizing in the way that it would be for an alcoholic, a heroin addict, a compulsive gambler, or someone truly believed to be mentally ill…But like much humor there is an uneasy fear behind these self-admissions, for some collectors really are out of control”.

The most vivid example that Belk encountered was a dealer and collector of Disney cartoon character replicas who was a recovering poly-drug abuser who himself described his collecting behaviour as an addiction. Over many years, he accumulated a large collection of Mickey Mouse memorabilia to obtained his “Mickey fix”. Consequently he was often unable to pay his house rent or pay his bills. Belk claimed that he thrill of collecting and displaying his objects eventually threatened his psychological wellbeing and in the collector’s words had to go “cold turkey” and cease collecting.

Finally, in an online article about addictive collecting, Hale Dwoskin, CEO and director of training of Sedona Training Associates provided a list of symptoms of a collecting addiction:

  • You look for/buy/trade collectibles for hours on end, and the time you spend doing this is increasing
  • You think about collectibles constantly, even when you’re not collecting
  • You have missed important meetings/events because of collecting
  • It’s difficult for you to not buy more collectibles, even for just a few days
  • You try to sneak more collectibles into your home
  • You have tried, unsuccessfully, to stop collecting
  • Your family or friends have asked you to cut back on collecting
  • Your personal interests have changed because of your collecting
  • You have lost a personal or professional relationship because of collecting

As an ‘avid’ collector myself (of records, CDs and music in general) I can certainly see how collecting can become an expensive habit that goes beyond disposable income. Although I think that it is theoretically possible to be addicted to collecting, the number of genuine ‘collecting addicts’ is likely to be very low.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Belk, R. W. (1982). Acquiring, possessing, and collecting: fundamental processes in consumer behavior. Marketing Theory: Philosophy of Science Perspectives, 185-190.

Belk, R. W. (1992). Attachment to possessions. In: Place attachment (pp. 37-62). New York: Springer.

Belk, R. W. (1994). Collectors and collecting. Interpreting objects and collections, 317-326.

Belk, R. W. (1995). Collecting as luxury consumption: Effects on individuals and households. Journal of Economic Psychology, 16(3), 477-490.

Belk, R.W., Wallendorf, M., Sherry, J.F., & Holbrook, M.B. (1991). Collecting in a consumer culture. In: Highways and buyways: Naturalistic research from the consumer behavior odyssey, pp.178-215.

Danet, B. & Katriel, T. (1989). No two alike: The aesthetics of collecting. Play and Culture, 2, 253-277.

Formanek, R. (1991). Why they collect: Collectors reveal their motivations. Journal of Social Behavior and Personality, 6(6), 275-286.

MacLeod, K. (2007). Romps with Ransom’s King: Fans, Collectors, Academics, and the MP Shiel Archives. ESC: English Studies in Canada, 30(1), 117-136

Subkowski, P. (2006). On the psychodynamics of collecting. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 87, 383-401.

Heavy petting: A brief overview of animal hoarding

Last week I was interviewed on BBC radio about Channel 4’s new show ‘The Hoarder Next Door’. In previous blogs, I have briefly examined pathological hoarding and one particular type of hoarding behaviour (i.e., pathological book hoarding). Another very specific type of hoarding is animal hoarding (typically defined as having a higher number of pets than is normal to have and failing to look after them properly). In a 2006 issue of Veterinary Medicine, Dr Gary Patronek (Tufts University, US) defined animal hoarding as: “Pathological human behaviour that involves a compulsive need to obtain and control animals, coupled with a failure to recognize their suffering”. According to a recent literature review led by Dr Albert Pertusa (Institute of Psychiatry, London), this sub-type of hoarding has been defined as the accumulation of a large number of animals along with a:

  • Failure to provide minimal standards of nutrition, sanitation, and veterinary care.
  • Failure to act on the deteriorating condition of the animals (including disease, starvation or death) and the environment (severe overcrowding, extremely unsanitary conditions)
  • Lack of awareness of the negative effects of the collection on their own health and wellbeing and on that of other family members.

Animal hoarders often live in severe domestic squalor and live in more unsanitary conditions than other types of hoarder (although some other types of disorder such as Diogenes Syndrome – also known as ‘senile squalor syndrome’ – is characterized by extreme self-neglect, apathy, domestic squalor, social withdrawal, compulsive hoarding of rubbish, and lack of shame). It is common for the houses of animal hoarders to be filled with animal faecal waste, and it is not unusual to find the decomposing remains of dead animals. The animals are often left to reproduce at will as animal hoarders do not typically get their pets spayed or neutered. Sick animals are typically left to die and rot. A 2009 study by Dr Gary Patronek and Jane Nathanson examined the living areas of 49 animal hoarders. They reported that four out of five living areas were heavily littered with trash and garbage” (78%), and that in just under a half there was profuse urine or feces in the living spaces (45%).

One very key difference between animal and non-animal hoarders is that animal hoarding may involve animal cruelty. Dr Frank Ascione (Utah State University) defines animal cruelty as a socially unacceptable behavior that intentionally causes unnecessary pain, suffering, or distress to and/or death of an animal. Ascione believes that animal neglect falls within this definition and that therefore animal hoarders are guilty of animal cruelty. However, some researchers claim that the animal cruelty is not deliberate as the compulsive hoarding is underpinned by some kind of mental disorder.

Many animal hoarders are known to hoard other items and objects, and therefore some experts in the area (such as Patronek and Nathanson) suggest that animal hoarding is a special manifestation of compulsive hoarding. There is also some research that suggests that animal hoarding follows more ‘conventional’ hoarding. However, animal hoarders share many of the same characteristics as those with Diogenes Syndrome. It has also been suggested that animal hoarders had very controlling parents, come from backgrounds that were chaotic and/or deprived in childhood (and sometimes described as scary and frightening), have psychological issues and problems surrounding emotional attachments, and often attribute human characteristics to the animals they own. Another seemingly common theme is that of physical and/or psychological loss. For animal hoarders, losing a possession is for them like losing a close friend or family member. It has also been claimed that some animal hoarders are often incapable of looking after and caring for themselves (let alone animals – particularly if there are so many of them).

Colin Berry and colleagues, writing in an overview on animal hoarding for the journal Animal Law cited a 2002 review by Arnold Arluke and reported:

“Arnold Arluke analyzed one hundred articles about animal hoarding. Arluke suggests that, rather than presenting a realistic picture of animal hoarding that captures the complexity of the issue, the media presents animal hoarding in a stream of different emotional themes. While drawing the reader’s attention, these themes are more likely to elicit revulsion, sympathy, or humor from the reader rather than understanding of the hoarding issues themselves. Arluke concludes that these emotional themes ‘present an inconsistent picture of animal hoarding that can confuse readers about the nature and significance of this behavior.’ Portraying hoarders’ stories in this light can cause the public to be sympathetic and even supportive of the hoarder and her actions. Some hoarders even receive donations or offers of more animals”.

In the same paper, Berry and colleagues also noted that in terms of demographics, empirical studies have found that animal hoarders are typically middle-aged or older females who are often disabled, retired, or unemployed, living alone in homes without working appliances. The animals that are most likely to be hoarded are cats (the highest number they came across being owned was 400) and dogs (the highest number owned being 218). They also noted that numerous psychological models have been proposed to explain animal hoarding, including focal delusion, addiction, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), zoophilia, and dementia. Although there is no consensus, the conceptualizing of animal hoarding as a form of OCD appears to be the most popular explanation (although this does not appear to explain all cases). According to Karen Cassiday, no-one knows what the prevalence of animal hoarders is within any population although press reports over the last decade have quintupled. Whatever the prevalence, animal hoarding is an area that needs further investigation.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Arluke, A. et al. (2002). Press reports of animal hoarding. Society and Animals, 113, 130-32.

Ascione, F. (1993). Children who are cruel to animals: A review of research and implications for developmental psychopathology. Anthrozoos: A Multidisciplinary Journal of The Interactions of People & Animals, 6, 226-247.

Berry, C., Patronek, G. & Lockwood, R. (2005). Long-term outcomes in animal hoarding cases. Animal Law, 11, 167-194.

Cassiday, K.L. (undated). Animal hoarding: An overlooked and misunderstood problem. Located at: http://www.ocdchicago.org/images/uploads/pdf/Cassiday_-_Animal_Hoarding_-_An_Overlooked_and_Misunderstood_Problem.pdf

Patronek, G. J., & Nathanson, J. N. (2009). A theoretical perspective to inform assessment and treatment strategies for animal hoarders. Clinical Psychology Review, 29, 274−281.

Pertusa, A., Frost, R.O., Fullana, M.A., Samuels, J., Steketee, G., Tolin, D., Saxena, S., Leckman, J.F., Mataix-Cols, D. (2010). Refining the diagnostic boundaries of compulsive hoarding: A critical review. Clinical Psychology Review, 30, 371-386.

Reinisch, A.I. (2008). Understanding the human aspects of animal hoarding. Canadian Veterinary Journal, 49, 1211-1214.

Well and truly booked: A beginner’s guide to bibliomania

“Some people think that collecting old books is a kind of mild insanity. The collector, on his side, smiles upon the ignorant who cannot understand the enjoyment of collecting. The philosopher says: Ne quid nimis, go not too far. But all of the adages this one is the most difficult to follow. The bibliophile is the master of his books, the bibliomaniac their slave. With development of bibliomania, the friendly, warming flame of a hobby become devastating, ravaging wildfire, a tempest of loosened and vehement passions. We are then in the presence of a pathological, irresistible mental compulsion, which has produced more than one crime interesting enough to be remembered”

What amazes me about this opening quote is that it was written almost 70 years ago. It comes from an article by Dr. Martin Sander published in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology (1943). So what’s the evidence for the existence of “bibliomania”? Does it really exist? In a nutshell, yes.

Bibliomania has been reported to be a symptom of some obsessive-compulsive disorders particularly those associated with the collecting and hoarding of books. For a small minority, bibliomania can result in the breakdown of personal relationships and/or the damaging of the person’s health. It is believed that the condition had no generally accepted name until 1866. Dr. John Ferriar – a British physician from Manchester – had a poem published simply entitled “Bibliomania”.

In his 2001 book The Anatomy of Bibliomania, Holbrook Jackson noted that English bibliographer Thomas Dibdin (1776-1847) wrote about bibliomania. Dibdin described the condition as a fatal affliction and referred to it as “the Book disease” that has “almost uniformly confined its attacks to the male sex, and among these, to the people in the higher and middling classes of society, while the artificer, labourer, and peasant have escaped wholly uninjured”.

In recent history, arguably the most well known bibliomaniac was Stephen Blumberg from Iowa (US). The so-called “book bandit” was convicted of stealing $5.3 million worth of books (over 23,600 books). In 1991 during Blumberg’s trial, the forensic psychiatrist Dr. William S. Logan noted that Blumberg had been treated for compulsive behaviour and had suffered schizophrenic delusions ad that these conditions had underpinned his bibliomania. Following a four-and-a-half year prison sentence, Blumberg was released but immediately resumed his book collecting and stealing.

Despite the condition being written about for 150 years, bibliomania is not a psychological disorder recognized by the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Bibliomaniac behaviours include the multiple purchasing of the same book and in more extreme cases the persistent stealing of books. One of the defining features of bibliomania is that the acquisition and collecting of increasing numbers of books have no use to the bibliomaniac, nor little intrinsic value to genuine book collectors. Other book-related conditions include ‘bibliophilia’ (which is simply the love of books but not in a paraphilic sense), ‘bibliokleptomania’ (the stealing of books), ‘bibliophagy’ (the eating of books), and ‘bibliotaphy’ (the burying of books).

Dr Norman Weiner wrote a theoretical paper on bibliomania in a 1966 issue of the Psychoanalytic Quarterly because it had “largely been ignored by psychoanalysts”. He noted that few people enter treatment for bibliomania and speculated that this was because the activity may be ego-syntonic (i.e., a behaviour that is in harmony with and acceptable to the needs and goals of the person’s ego or ideal self-image). He also provided case study evidence that for some people, the act of book collecting as a hobby may cause psychological conflict that for sufferers relieves anxiety.

Writing in a 2006 issue of the International Journal of Psychoanalysis, Dr. Peter Subkowski wrote that the urge to collect is a ubiquitous phenomenon that has anthropological, sociobiological and individual psychodynamic roots (not surprising given that Subkowski is a psychoanalyst). He also claims that collecting occurs far more frequently among men than women. He describes collecting as an activity that can be “addictive, obsessive and messy””. From his psychoanalytical standpoint, Subkowski claimed that the type of collecting and choice of object were important indicators as to the unconscious psychodynamics of a collector and that:

“Collecting ranges across a broad spectrum, from an ego-syntonic integrated mode (i.e. sublimation) to a neurotic defence against pre-oedipal or oedipal traumas and conflicts…Collecting represents a specific form of object relating and way of handling primary loss trauma, which is different from addiction, compulsion, or perversion”.

When researching this article, I came across very little academic research on the topic although there has been a fair amount of research on collectors. For instance, Dr. Russell Belk (1991) writing in the Journal of Social Behavior and Personality describes collectors of mass-produced objects as falling into one of two main types: the taxonomic collector who attempts to own an example of every type of a series of items produced, and the aesthetic collector who simply gathers items because they are pleasing in some way. Belk also describes collecting as “fetishistic” and that collecting items and bringing them together makes them sacred.

In a 1991 issue of the Journal of Social Behavior and Personality, Ruth Formanek’s suggested five common motivations for collecting. These were: extension of the self (e.g., acquiring knowledge, or in controlling one’s collection); social (finding, relating to, and sharing with, like-minded others); preserving history and creating a sense of continuity; financial investment; and finally, an addiction or compulsion. Formanek says that what is common to all motivations to collect is a passion for the particular things collected. Professor Donald Case (University of Kentucky, US) in a 2006 review of collecting in the journal Library Trends says that it is this almost “sexual excitement” that led many early psychologists (including Freud) to see collecting as a manifestation of anal-erotic impulses.

An empirical survey by Formanek of 167 people (a mixture students, university staff members, collectors, art dealers, etc.) was published as a book chapter in the 1994 book Interpreting Objects and Collections (edited by Dr. Susan Pierce). One of the primary objectives of Formanek’s study was to look at the motivation of book collectors. She noted that:

“An important motivation is the feeling of excitement and elation. Referred to but as yet unexplored in the literature, is the collector’s addiction to collecting. The terms ‘obsession’ and ‘compulsion’ are mentioned chiefly in the popular literature, and are not distinguished from addiction”.

Of those who completed the survey, nine of the participants specifically mentioned addiction, obsession and compulsion as one of the reasons for collecting books although only one collector went into any detail. There were many other motivations for book collecting listed including the books being a financial investment, the challenge of the hunt, adding to one’s knowledge, and “collecting as preservation, restoration, history and a sense of continuity”.

Bibliomania probably means different things to different people and for some it is seen in a more positive light whereas others pathologize the behaviour. It doesn’t look as though the condition will appear in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders any time soon, but there certainly appears to be a small body of empirical evidence to suggest that for some people, book collecting can be compulsive.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Belk, R. W. (1991). The ineluctable mysteries of possessions. Journal of Social Behavior and Personality, 6(6), 17-55.

Case, D.O. (2006). Serial collecting as leisure, and coin collecting in particular. Library Trends, 57(4), 729-752.

Formanek, R. (1991). Why they collect: Collectors reveal their motivations. Journal of Social Behavior and Personality, 6(6), 275-286.

Formanek, R. (1994). Why they collect: Collectors reveal their motivations. In S.M. Pearce (Ed.), Interpreting Objects and Collections (pp.327-335). London: Psychology Press.

Jackson, H. (2001). The Anatomy of Bibliomania. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

MacLeod, K. (2004). Romps with Ransom’s King: Fans, Collectors, Academics, and the M. P. Shiel Archives. English Studies in Canada, 30(1), 117-136.

Roland, C.G. (1970). Bibliomania. Journal of the American Medical Association, 212(1), 133-135.

Sander, M. (1943). Bibliomania. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 34, 155-161.

Subkowski, P. (2006). On the psychodynamics of collecting. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 87, 383-401.

Weiner, N.D. (1966). On bibliomania. Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 35, 217-232.

“I can’t believe it’s not clutter”: An overview of compulsive hoarding

Like many people, I save and collect various items (in my case, records and CDs). Collecting is a natural human activity and some evolutionary psychologists have argued that it may have had an evolutionary advantage in our past history (e.g., there may have been periods of severe deprivation where hoarding was adaptive and enhanced the probability of reproductive success and human survival). However, for a small minority, collecting and hoarding can become excessive and pathological as demonstrated a few months ago (December 2011), when Channel 4 broadcast a television programme on compulsive hoarders as part of the Cutting Edge series of documentaries

Compulsive hoarding – also known as pathological collecting in some scientific circles – is a behaviour typically characterized by the excessive acquisition and keeping of seemingly worthless objects that have little or no material value. According to a recent review led by Dr Albert Pertusa (Institute of Psychiatry, London), a widely accepted definition of compulsive hoarding is “the excessive collection and failure to discard objects of apparently little value, leading to clutter, distress, and disability” (p.371). The difficulty in discarding or letting go of the accumulated possessions is the critical criterion of pathological hoarding. It is also worth noting that some leading figures in the hoarding field don’t like the term ‘compulsive hoarding’ for many of the same reasons that those in the gambling studies field don’t like the term ‘compulsive gambling’.

There has been a substantial increase in research into the disorder in recent years. Interestingly, it appears to be inversely related to income (as it is far more common among the economically deprived). Based on empirical research, the prevalence of compulsive hoarding is thought to be around 2-5% among adult populations although there are certain socio-demographic groups where the prevalence is known to be higher (e.g., there is a higher prevalence among men and the elderly).

As with most behaviours that involve a compulsive element, there are associated physical health risks with compulsive hoarding. There are also reports that the behaviour can lead to detriments in other areas of the affected person’s life including impaired psychological functioning, financial difficulties, and the compromising of relationships with family and friends.

Given that excessive hoarding impacts on the physical living space of the individual and can take over in every room in an affected person’s home (such as people who never throw away a single newspaper or magazine), it can lead to a negatively detrimental effect on life’s essential activities such as personal hygiene and house sanitation – both of which may lead to increased health risks. Other activities such as sleeping and cooking food can also be seriously affected. Mobility in the person’s day-to-day living space may be affected and some hoarded items (such as newspapers and household waste) may lead to increased fire risks. It has also been noted that at a societal level, compulsive hoarding is a burden on public health in terms of poor physical health, occupational impairment, and the utilization of social services.

Although the collecting behaviour may be pathological, there is still a lot of scientific debate as to whether it is a stand alone disorder or symptomatic of other conditions, most notably obsessive-compulsive disorder [OCD] – particularly as approximately 20%-40% of people with OCD patients are known to have various hoarding compulsions and obsessions. Some researchers also suggest that other psychological traits such as perfectionism and indecisiveness may underpin some hoarding behaviour. Other co-morbidities are known to exist including alcoholism, in addition to paranoid, avoidant, and schizotypal traits. Compulsive hoarding also appears to be similar to impulse control disorders, particularly that of compulsive buying as many hoarders’ homes are full of bought items that are often unopened and still in their original packaging. Approximately three-quarters of hoarders also engage in excessive buying, and over half also accumulate items and possessions for free. Research has indicated that the condition of hoarders’ homes have been described as “merely cluttered” to “squalid”.

In fact, Dr Pertusa and his colleagues claim that the majority of hoarding studies are actually based on the assumption that the behaviour is a form of OCD. However, there is accumulating evidence that hoarding may be a separate entity to OCD. As is also pointed out by Pertusa and colleagues, there is no reference to hoarding behaviour in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-IV) criteria for OCD. Furthermore, in relation to obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, hoarding is mentioned in only one of the eight diagnostic criteria.

A recent meta-analytic study led by Dr Michael Bloch (Yale School of Medicine, USA) examined 21 worldwide studies with over 5000 OCD individuals and concluded that hoarding is an independent factor in both in children and adults. The study also reported that unlike typical OCD sufferers, compulsive hoarders don’t experience intrusive thoughts about possessions urging them to perform ritualized behaviour. It has also been observed that around a third of compulsive hoarders don’t show any other OCD symptoms. Dr Bloch and colleagues conclude that compulsive hoarding is a more passive behaviour where intense distress is only triggered when the hoarders face the prospect of having to get rid of their accumulated possessions.

Although there are many published studies where compulsive hoarders are treated pharmacologically with serotonin reuptake inhibitors (that show very mixed results in relation to their effectiveness), the most effective treatment appears to be cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). This typically involves hoarders learning (through cognitive restructuring and response prevention) how to deal with situations that cause intense anxiety. Research also suggests that some types of CBT are better than others. CBT approaches that focus on the hoarder’s motivation, acquisition of new items, and removal of items from the hoarder’s home appear to show the best outcome. Treatment studies also suggest that pathological hoarding may be best classified as a discrete disorder with its own diagnostic criteria rather than as a form of OCD.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Abramowitz, J. S., Wheaton, M. G., & Storch, E. A. (2008). The status of hoarding as a symptom of obsessive–compulsive disorder. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 46, 1026-1033.

Bloch, M.H., Landeros-Weisenberger, A., Rosario, M.C., Pittenger, C., & Leckman, J.F. (2008). Meta-analysis of the symptom structure of obsessive–compulsive disorder. American Journal of Psychiatry, 165, 1532-1542.

Frost, R. & Gross, R. (1993). The hoarding of possessions. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 31, 367-382.

Frost, R.O., Tolin, D.F., Steketee, G., Fitch, K.E., & Selbo-Bruns, A. (2009). Excessive acquisition in hoarding. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 23, 632-639.

Mataix-Cols, D., Nakatani, E., Micali, N. & Heyman, I. (2008). Structure of obsessive– compulsive symptoms in pediatric OCD. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 47, 773-778.

Muroff, J., Steketee, G., Rasmussen, J., Gibson, A., Bratiotis, C. & Sorrentino, C. (2009). Group cognitive and behavioral treatment for compulsive hoarding: A preliminary trial. Depression and Anxiety, 26, 634-640.

Pertusa, A., Frost, R.O., Fullana, M.A., Samuels, J., Steketee, G., Tolin, D., Saxena, S., Leckman, J.F., Mataix-Cols, D. (2010). Refining the diagnostic boundaries of compulsive hoarding: A critical review. Clinical Psychology Review, 30, 371-386.

Pertusa, A., Fullana, M. A., Singh, S., Alonso, P., Menchon, J. M., & Mataix-Cols, D. (2008). Compulsive hoarding: OCD symptom, distinct clinical syndrome, or both. American Journal of Psychiatry, 165, 1289-1298.

Saxena, S. (2008). Neurobiology and treatment of compulsive hoarding. CNS Spectrums, 13 (Suppl 14), 29-36.

Tolin, D.F., Frost, R.O. & Steketee, G. (2007). An open trial of cognitive-behavioral therapy for compulsive hoarding. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 45, 1461-1470.

Tolin, D.F., Frost, R.O., Steketee, G., & Fitch, K.E. (2008). Family burden of compulsive hoarding: Results of an internet survey. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 46, 334-344.

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