The Strange Brain| Part 2

Please see Part 1 for more strange brain!


Alien Hand Syndrome

Imagine having a hand that you can’t control. This hand behaves according to its own will – it just won’t cooperate. It moves around involuntarily, uses tools, presses buttons and grabs things (to the point of groping people). Sounds pretty funny but just imagine the horrifying embarrassment this would cause, especially when having to explain this to the grope-ee (erm…sorry about that…I can’t control my hand…and…yeah…*runs away*). Sounds pretty feeble, right? If this happened to me, I would probably hide myself away for the rest of my life for fear of groping more innocents.

This is the unfortunate reality for people who live with Alien Hand syndrome. It occurs when a person believes that the hand doesn’t belong to him. It is often named and personified (“damnit, Bob, will you stop that?!”) and treated as a separate entity. As sufferer Karen Byrne describes,

I would make a telephone call and this hand would hang up the phone…I would light a cigarette and this one would put it out. I would be drinking coffee and this hand would dump it.

Sounds annoying right? The syndrome is thought to be caused by the separation of left and right brain lobes either by injury or surgery, and leads to (understandable) trauma and distress on the sufferer’s part. There’s no cure for it either, but it can be managed by ensuring that the errant hand is engaged in some kind of diversionary activity.


Genital retraction syndrome

Koro is a Chinese word meaning ‘shrinkage’. Which pretty much describes  the fear people experience when they have genital retraction syndrome, as it’s called in the western world.

People with this syndrome have an overpowering belief that their penis (although, it has been known to occur in women with the case of breasts) is retracting and will eventually disappear altogether into their bodies. It has even affected masses of people at a time, causing mass public hysteria and panic. Even though reports are most prominent from Asia, it has been known to occur in people from Africa, Europe and the US too.

In Asia, the syndrome is known as koro. It is thought to be caused by evil female fox spirits, and is characterized by the overwhelming state of panic or anxiety experienced by sufferers. It is physiologically possible for the volume of the penis to temporarily decrease when its cold or when its owner is extremely stressed (this is called vasoconstriction). But Chinese culture holds that koro is prolonged, and leads to loss of sexual power, impotence and eventually death. In fact, they see it as a reduction in the male yang – which disturbs the harmonic, life-sustaining equilibrium of yin-yang. This is not ideal at all from their standpoint, and so sufferers are hastily treated with traditional Chinese medicine.

In Africa, mass public hysteria and fear of genital retraction have been caused by rumours of sorcery. In Singapore and Thailand, they have suspected mass poisoning to be the cause of past epidemics.

What’s sad is that even though many of these cultures believe genital retraction will eventually result in death, sufferers have actually died trying to stop this from happening, by resorting to some pretty gruesome measures. Men have been known to anchor themselves to clamping devices, and women have inserted iron pins into their nipples to try and stop their retreat. Even if these didn’t kill the sufferers, they always caused physical injury, bruising or infection.

The reality is that we don’t really know the exact cause of koro, but it’s interesting to note that it tends to be most common in cultures where reproductive ability is highly valued in a person’s worth.


Featured image is sourced from the 1997 movie, Liar Liar, directed by Tom Shadyac. 


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