The human mind has proven to be one of the most complex and mysterious subjects in science. With groundbreaking technology, scientists are learning more about the mind than ever before; however, many of the brain’s processes remain a complete conundrum to psychologists. Whether using a psychoanalytical, behavioral, humanistic, or biological approach, the brain is still as mysterious to psychologists as the universe is to physicists. Abnormal psychology is the study of mental disorders that occur when the mind’s normal processes seem to malfunction. When these processes malfunction, many aspects of the mind are brought under the light of science. The following three psychological disorders are, in my opinion, some of the most intriguing and confusing disorders that are known to psychologists in the field. They will be presented and explained in the form of purely hypothetical case studies.
A male, age 32, suffering from no previous history of mental malfunction suffers head trauma in a car crash. When his parents come to visit him in the hospital, he seems to be obsessed with the delusion that they are imposters. He has come to believe that he does not know the people who have come to visit him, but rather believes that they are imposters pretending to be his parents. This is the primary symptom of Capgras delusion or Capgras syndrome, a disorder characterized by the belief that someone close is being impersonated by a stranger. Little is known of Capgras syndrome. It is believed that trauma to the brain can induce a severe case of prosopagnosia (the inability to recognize faces), which may manifest itself in Capgras syndrome.
A female college student with outstanding grades suddenly disappears. A week later, she returns to her university with no memory of what occurred in the last week. In viewing her credit card bills, it is discovered within the week that she purchased plane tickets to fly cross country, had booked hotel reservations for a week, and had purchased several other items in a city hundreds of miles away. This student would qualify for a diagnosis of dissociative fugue, a rare, yet short-lived disorder in which one suffers from identity delusions, amnesia, and plans vague and unexplainable travel. When she returns, she is completely stable mentally and has a full memory of her life with the exception of her unplanned trip. Those who have an episode of dissociative fugue often take strange trips which they later cannot recall. Dissociative fugue has a sudden onset and usually only lasts a short time, but its origins are largely unknown. It is believed that a sudden stressful event can induce the fugue state, but psychologists remain baffled by this fascinating occurrence.
A man suffers a horrible accident in which one of his arms is amputated. Despite recovering from the incident, months later he still has the sensations that his arm is still there. He claims he can feel it moving and that he often wakes up to his imaginary arm itching uncontrollably. Imagine having an itch or an ache on a limb that does not exist. This is characteristic of a phantom limb ‘” a limb that, although it has gone missing, the brain still believes remains intact. People who have amputated limbs may still experience physical sensations in these regions, despite the fact that there is no physical body part there. The brain, however, still has not realized that the limb has gone missing and thus these sensations are possible. It should be noted though that sometimes people born without a certain limb can experience its phantom counterpart. Phantom limbs have become a growing area of interest in psychology. Scientists have primarily approached solutions to phantom limbs by trying to trick the brain’s perception of the limb.
In my opinion, these three unusual disorders illustrate the deep complexity of the brain. Their fascinating natures and manifestations demonstrate that we still have so much more to learn about the human psyche.