Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Capgras Syndrome – "This is not my beautiful house! This is not my beautiful wife!"

Capgras Syndrome, or the Capgras Delusion, is a form of mental illness which leads sufferers to believe their family and friends are being replaced by inexact imitations. This delusion may be permanent, or it could come and go in bursts, such as seeing one's spouse, looking down, looking up, and seeing a facsimile-spouse in that same place. From the September 11, 2007 issue of the New York Times comes a good introduction to the disorder.

The disorder was first described in 1923 by the French psychiatrists Joseph Capgras and Jean Reboul-Lachaux. They treated a 53-year-old who believed that her husband, her children, her neighbors and even she had been replaced by exact “doubles” in a plot to steal her property.

In Capgras, there is an uncoupling of perception and recognition that leads many investigators to theorize that there may be a neurological, organic cause that remains unknown. Psychoanalysts have seen Capgras as an unusual form of displacement in which the patient rejects the loved one whenever negative features have to be attributed.

Apparently, in some cases it even leads a sufferer to believe he or she is being replaced. An in-depth case study (PDF) relays a transcript between an experimenter and a patient, named DS:

E (Pointing to a photograph of DS from two years ago when he had a moustache): 'Whose picture is this?'
P: 'That is another DS who looks identical to me but he isn't me—he has a moustache.'

Of course, all this does is make me think of The Talking Heads' "Once in a Lifetime". Same as it ever was.

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