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Weird Science: The Odd World of Psychology

October 12, 2012

As humans, we tend to believe we understand everything about ourselves. Within the field of psychology, however, this isn’t always the case. Rare psychological conditions call into question what we think we know about the brain and human behavior. Below are some odd phenomena in the world of psychology.

Odd Psychological Conditions

These conditions are scientifically documented and considered rare.

Exploding Head Syndrome

This psychological condition is a sleep disorder that describes when an individual suddenly imagines a loud noise right before falling asleep or waking from sleep. These noises have been compared to fireworks, cymbals crashing, screaming, or bombs exploding. Noises may occur rarely, or multiple times per night. Flashes of light may also occur, as may sudden stabs of head pain.

Cotard’s Syndrome

Cotard’s syndrome describes a mental condition wherein patients believe they have lost body parts or are dead. It has often been reported in cases where patients suffer from mood or psychotic disorders. Common symptoms may include insensitivity to pain, delusions of nonexistence or immortality, anxious melancholy, and severe depression. Occasionally patients suffer from nutrition deficiencies.

The syndrome is reported to be more common for older women.

Foreign Accent Syndrome

First officially presented in 1907, foreign accent syndrome refers to individuals speaking in an accent that is not their own due to psychiatric or neurological factors. Many patients who suffer from foreign accent syndrome experience traumatic brain injury, although how this leads to changes in speech remains unknown. Other patients have psychiatric disorders that cause the condition. Vowels are often the most susceptible to changes.

Although the disorder is rare, more than 100 case studies have been published about the condition.

The Fregoli Delusion

Fregoli delusion is the mistaken belief that everyone in a patient’s environment (usually strangers) is actually a familiar person in disguise. Although the patient understands that others have different physical appearances, they falsely believe that someone has taken on the persona of a disguise. Four subtypes of the disorder have been identified:

  1. One real person is misidentified as a single known person
  2. Two or more real people are misidentified as a single person in different physical guises
  3. One real person misidentified as two or more known persons
  4. Two or more real people misidentified as two or more known persons

Researchers believe that the cause of this disorder lies within a disruption of cognitive ability for patients to perceive others’ faces. However, where this disruption occurs in the brain is still in question.

Alice in Wonderland Syndrome

This disorder is characterized by distortions of visual perceptions, the body, and the experience of time. Named after the famous book character, the syndrome is characterized by a host of symptoms such as color distortion, seeing things larger or smaller than they are, objects appearing tilted, distortion of faces, time perceived to be accelerating or decelerating, the sensation of floating, and a host of others. These symptoms usually last minutes or days. However, some patients experience symptoms for years or a lifetime.

Although the syndrome is considered rare, clinical studies indicate that the prevalence rate may be higher in the general population than previously imagined.

Diogenes Syndrome

Diogenes syndrome is a behavioral disorder characterized by extreme self-neglect, domestic squalor, hoarding, and lack of shame regarding one’s living condition. The syndrome is named after the Greek philosopher Diogenes, who stressed the rejection of luxury. The condition is most common for elderly people. Accompanying symptoms include unhygienic conditions, refusing outside help, self-imposed isolation, collecting unusual objects, and dementia. Diogenes syndrome appears equally in men and women, regardless of socioeconomic status.

About 31 percent of cases are found in individuals 65 or younger.

Body Integrity Identity Disorder

Body integrity identity disorder (BIID) is a condition where patients experience an intense desire to amputate a major limb or to become paralyzed. In BIID patients, there is no medical reason to make these physiological changes; limbs are healthy and the body functions properly. Instead, individuals experience a mismatch between their physical body and mental body image, and desire these modifications to feel internally complete or satisfied. Because this mismatch induces tremendous mental stress, the condition can be accompanied by mood disorders such as depression. BIID often presents beginning in early childhood.

Patients with this syndrome often act on desires and self-amputate or self-mutilate. Debate is heavy among medical professionals on the proper course of treatment for this disorder.

A Fascinating Future

Psychology is an ever-changing field that requires individuals who are passionate about moving the field forward. At King University, the online Bachelor of Science in Psychology prepares students with the groundwork they need to go further in their field. A fully online program, students can attend school on a flexible schedule and complete their course of study in as little as 16 months.

Sources: Oxford Clinical Psychology, American Academy of Sleep Medicine, Journal of Neurosciences in Rural Practice, The Atlantic, Topics in Cognitive Science, Neurology Clinical Practice, Encyclopedia Britannica, Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, PLoS One