Trust is an essential aspect in our everyday lives. As children, we are taught to trust our parents and family members, teachers, doctors, and members of the police and fire departments. While we learn to become more wary throughout the years, in order to function in today’s society, we still need a degree of trust.
But imagine what it would be like to have that trust eroded away. What if people that you normally trusted – such as your best friend or close family member – suddenly seemed alien or unreal? What if you looked at your spouse one day and, even though he or she looked the same, you just knew that it wasn’t really the person that you married? It’s a frightening idea to try and grasp, but it’s something that people with Capgras’ syndrome deal with on a daily basis.
What is Capgras’ Syndrome?
Also known as the Capgras’ delusion, Capgras’ syndrome is a rare condition in which people believe that an acquaintance (or several), have been replaced by an impostor. While they realize that the person looks identical to the loved one that they’ve lost, they usually complain that they can “feel” that it’s not the person or that, in some cases, they “just know.” The replacement may be a single person while or it can be a case of where more and more people are steadily replaced throughout the victims’ lives – even their own reflection in the mirror may appear to be that of an impostor.
Named after Joseph Capgras, a French psychiatrist who first spoke of the disorder in a 1923 research paper, the condition was originally known as l’illusion des sosies (the illusion of doubles). Since then, this strange condition has come under much discussion. When it was determined that the “replacements” were not illusions that faded with time, that the people remained “changed” for the victim, the name was switched to Capgras’ syndrome. Even now, researchers debate whether it should be known as a syndrome or if the condition should be officially a delusion, since it’s considered to be a delusional misidentification syndrome. Regardless of the name confusion, it remains a very frightening condition for those afflicted.
In the first described case, Madame M. of 1923, the woman diagnosed claimed that her family had all been replaced with identical-looking individuals. This delusion gradually expanded until she was sure that even friends, neighbors and acquaintances had all been replaced. Eventually, she claimed to have had more than 80 different husbands – even though she remained married to the same man throughout her life.
The Symptoms of Capgras’ Syndrome
Interesting to note is that the only true symptom of Capgras’ syndrome is the inability to recognize close friends, family members or familiar objects. While Capgras’ delusion has been found to occur alongside schizophrenia, the two do not always go hand-in-hand. Some patients have been diagnosed with lesions in the right temporal lobe of the brain, stemming from epileptic seizures or brain trauma, yet not all patients who suffer from Capgras’ syndrome have these either. Interesting to note is that, in New Zealand, there is a greater number of people who suffer with Capgras’ syndrome, within members of the Maori people, than that of the general populous.
Another unexpected turn is that, while Capgras’ syndrome was originally thought to affect the senses (mainly visual), it is not wholly dependent upon sight. There have even been cases of blind people who have been diagnosed with Capgras’ syndrome, where they believe that they hear voices that are coming from duplicates and not their friends or loved ones. In addition to close relations, some people believe that familar objects around their home are being replaced by impostors or that even the family pet has been swapped out for an identical twin.
Oddly enough, one thing that is not common with Capgras’ syndrome is paranoia. While people who suffer from this condition may become frightened of the strangers or uncomfortable and angry, people who have Capgras’ do not believe a conspiracy is afoot. While it may seem very strange and alien to them, they do not believe that it’s being done because people are out to get them.
Treating Capgras’ Syndrome
To date, there has been no single treatment that’s found to have been consistently effective in the cure of Capgras’ syndrome. Some doctors have reported success with anti-psychotic medications, where others have suggested that diazepam may hold the key. In one case, there was even a woman who was cured by slowly working to help her recognize her reflections in mirrors of different sizes. Since she originally recognized her reflection in her makeup compact, doctors would slowly show her a larger and larger mirror, not moving on until she could recognize who was looking back at her. In time, she was eventually able to recognize herself in a full-length mirror.
http://www.damninteresting.com/an-impostor-in-the-family – Information about Capgras’ syndrome
http://www.ted.com/talks/vilayanur_ramachandran_on_your_mind.html – Video chat explaining Capgras’ syndrome