Capgras Syndrome

I continue reading V.S. Ramachandran’s “The Tell-tale Brain” and find fascinating its description of a condition called called Capgras syndrome. In this syndrome a person will look at someone to whom they have a strong emotional connection — their spouse, child, mother, or in one case their pet — and will be convinced that the person is an imposter. They freely concede that the person looks exactly like whom they know, but they refuse to acknowledge their identity.

To make it even more interesting, Ramachandran notes a patient who refused to accept that his mother was who she was, but when she called him on the phone he completely acknowledged that it was her. So how do you explain this?

There’s a part of the brain whose job is to recognize faces. That brain area connects to a brain unit I’ve talked about before, the amygdala, which has a lot to do with emotion. In the cases of these patients, this connection has been lost, so they see a person they are close to but get no subtle jolt of emotional recognition, thus they become convinced the person is an imposter. There’s also a connection between the auditory cortex of the brain to the amygdala, and in the case of Ramachandran’s patient, this connection was still working, and as such he “recognized” his mother on the phone.

Of course, there’s another explanation that Ramachandran doesn’t explore. Perhaps the patient’s mother was replaced by aliens with a pod person who mimicked her appearance but not her emotional self. And perhaps by explaining away his patient’s delusion, Ramachandran only delivered him into the tentacles of waiting aliens. This is the great dilemma of science — you never really know.

3 Responses to “Capgras Syndrome”


  1. John Saleeby

    There is a similar syndrome in which your girlfriend sees you and decides she wants to start “seeing other people”.

    I’d call this the Brenda Syndrome but I wouldn’t give that bitch the satisfaction!

  2. Wil

    Aw, Brenda’s a doll. She says hi by the way.

  3. John Saleeby

    Shut up and get to work on the next issue!