Taking a quick break from the candy and Halloween decorations, let’s look at something more deliciously creepy: Capgras Delusion.
Discovered in 1923, Capgras Delusion is described as “a disorder in which a person holds a delusion that a friend, spouse, parent, or other close family member has been replaced by an identical-looking impostor.”
That’s right – the individual suffering from Capgras Delusion will fully believe that someone stole/kidnapped/murdered their loved one, then replaced them.
Here’s an example from NPR:
“A 37-year-old woman came into the office of Carol Berman, a psychiatrist at New York University Medical Center, with a strange complaint. She had returned to her house recently to find a man sitting on her couch. He was familiar, sort of, and he was wearing her husband’s clothes. But something didn’t feel right to this woman. She felt a strange kind of emptiness when she looked at him. She was struck by the very deep sense that her husband had somehow been replaced by this strange man.”
Here’s another one:
“A student at the University of California, San Diego was severely injured in a car accident. After several weeks in a coma, he regained consciousness and seemed to be doing fine. But according to V.S. Ramachandran, a neuroscientist at the university, when the patient’s mother came to see him, he exclaimed, ‘Who is this woman? She looks just like my mother, but she’s an impostor! She’s some other woman pretending to be my mother.’”
When looking at the cause for Capgras Delusion, one must first look at prosopagnosia. Individuals with prosopagnosia are unable to consciously recognize faces, but they can still recognize other visual objects. (They can tell cat from cup, but not an anonymous woman from their mother.) In a 1984 study on prosopagnosia, it was shown that individuals with prosopagnosia had unconscious emotional reactions to the faces of their loved ones. Consciously, they could not visually recognize their loved ones. Unconsciously, they still held emotions to their loved one’s faces.
It has been hypothesized that Capgras Delusion mirrors the effects of prosopagnosia. Consciously, individuals with Capgras Delusion will visually recognize their loved one’s face – “I know this face!” Unconsciously, they hold no emotional connection to the face – “But something feels not quite right!” Thus, we have individuals recognizing their loved ones, without the emotional memories of why they recognize them – “I know this man, but he is not the man I know!”
But let’s go one step further:
Let’s say that a mother calls her son. The son suffers from Capgras Delusion. Hearing his mother’s voice on the telephone, the son recognizes that it is his mother – he fully believes that his mother is on the phone. They end their conversation, then the mother walks into the same room as the son. Even though he just heard her voice – fully believed it was her – the son cannot visually understand that the woman standing in front of him is his mother.
His mind literally cannot comprehend this fact.
That’s Capgras Delusion, and it’s one of the creepiest psychological phenomena that I’ve ever heard about.